Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back against Spurs

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

A slow start was quickly a thing of the past Tuesday night, as the Denver Nuggets cruised to a 134-119 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The win was Denver’s sixth in-a-row and saw the Nuggets set a new season-high in points.

Led by Nikola Jokić (27 points, 11 assists), Michael Porter Jr. (25 points), and Will Barton III (24 points), Denver shot 59.6 percent from the field and dished out 36 assists in the dominant victory.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Pistons

Denver (32-18) must now shift its focus to Wednesday’s matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio (24-24) has struggled as of late, going 2-8 over the last 10 games. In classic Gregg Popovich fashion, the Spurs have produced on the defensive end of the floor this season, ranking 9th in defensive rating (per Cleaning the Glass). San Antonio has ushered in more of a youth movement this season, led by players such as Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude 2 and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Jakob Poeltl

As mentioned earlier, Poeltl has had somewhat of a breakout season for San Antonio and has developed into one of the elite rim protectors in the league. The Spurs’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better with the 25-year-old big man on the floor this season, and opponents have shot 8.7 percent worse at the rim during those minutes.

Jokić dominated in the first meeting between these two teams back on Jan. 29, scoring 35 points on 14-of-24 shooting from the field (including 5-of-11 from beyond the arc). However, Poeltl didn’t get the start in that matchup, with LaMarcus Aldridge holding down that spot earlier this season.

Jokić should be able to get quality looks from downtown on a regular basis Wednesday night, as Poeltl isn’t comfortable guarding on the perimeter as San Antonio wants to funnel shots towards the rim where Poeltl is at his best defensively. Jokić’s 3-point shooting could be the key to unlocking things offensively for Denver, as it can pull San Antonio’s best rim protector outside of the paint and open up drives.

Old-school battle in the mid-range

Fans of throwback basketball should enjoy Wednesday’s contest, with both teams emphasizing the mid-range in their offensive attacks.

San Antonio ranks fourth in the league in the frequency of shot attempts coming from the mid-range (37.7 percent), while Denver isn’t too far behind at 33.7 percent, which ranks ninth in the league.

However, Denver has executed more efficiently in the mid-range, hitting 45.7 percent on such shots this season, which is the fourth-best percentage in the league. The Spurs have connected on 42.7 percent of their mid-range shot attempts this season, which places them 12th in the league.

Denver’s shot distribution is more spread out than San Antonio’s, which makes it crucial that the Nuggets place an emphasis on defending the mid-range Wednesday night.

Slow down DeRozan

Despite San Antonio’s youth movement this season, DeMar DeRozan continues to lead the Spurs’ offense through his blend of scoring and playmaking.

The 31-year old has increased his playmaking, averaging a career-high seven assists per game to go with his 21 points per game. However, DeRozan has stepped up his scoring as of late, averaging 23.3 points per game on over 49 percent shooting from the field in the past 10 games.

In the first meeting between these two teams, DeRozan torched Denver’s defense to the tune of 30 points and 10 assists on 11-of-14 shooting from the field.

Look for Aaron Gordon to earn the majority of time guarding DeRozan Wednesday night, as he has been Denver’s primary defensive option over the past week since he joined the Mile High crew.

All statistics as of Tuesday, April 6.

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