The Denver Nuggets have hit the stretch run of their season-long seven-game road trip, but that doesn’t mean things are lightening up during the remainder of the week.
Following a win over the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night, Denver (12-12) returns to action Thursday to face the San Antonio Spurs. Nikola Jokić was completely dominant Wednesday night, dropping a 39-point triple-double to help fuel the overtime victory. The Serbian big man scored 17 of Denver’s final 24 points, showcasing his ability to thrive in crunch time.
San Antonio (8-15) has bounced back after a slow start, having won four of its last seven games. The Spurs have fueled their success with defense, owning the 8th-ranked defense during this seven-game stretch (they rank 12th on the season overall), which has helped overcome some struggles on the offensive end, where San Antonio ranks 24th per Cleaning the Glass.
Denver narrowly won the first meeting between the two teams 102-96 on Oct. 22.
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Take care of the ball
As has been the case over the past two decades, the Spurs thrive when it comes to the transition battle. San Antonio ranks fifth in turnover percentage, turning it over on just 13.1 percent of its possessions. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Spurs have been 14th or better in turnover percentage each season dating back to the 2003-04 season.
On the defensive end, San Antonio has also had success forcing mistakes from teams, ranking 10th in opponent turnover percentage at 15.1 percent.
For a Nuggets squad that has coughed it up on 14.2 percent of their possessions this season (16th in the league), they must be careful each trip down the floor against the Spurs. Although Denver hasn’t been elite in forcing mistakes on the defensive end, the Spurs did commit 20 turnovers in the first meeting back in October.
Get back in transition
One stark difference between this year’s Spurs squad and previous iterations under Gregg Popovich is San Antonio’s propensity to get out and run in transition.
Potentially a result of the team’s struggles in the halfcourt, San Antonio has been aggressive in pushing the ball in advantage situations, ranking third in the frequency of possessions beginning with a transition play (17.8 percent). According to Cleaning the Glass, this is the first season dating back to 2003-04 in which the Spurs are even in the top 10 in this category.
Although San Antonio hasn’t been very effective in scoring in those transition situations, the Nuggets must be locked in defensively to get back and defend in transition. Denver has been above league average so far this season in preventing transition opportunities, which should bode well against San Antonio.
Defending in the mid-range
Even with the recent departures of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio continues to build its offense around mid-range shots.
The Spurs rank second in the frequency of shot attempts from the mid-range, with 40.5 percent of the team’s total attempts coming from that area of the floor. San Antonio has also been very effective in converting those attempts, ranking fifth in mid-range field-goal percentage at 44.1 percent.
Denver’s defense has been designed to invite mid-range shots in hopes of limiting attempts at the rim and from beyond the arc, which will require an adjustment against San Antonio. Teams have shot 43.4 percent in the mid-range against the Nuggets this season, the eighth-highest percentage in the league.