Preview: Surging Nuggets aim to wrap impressive road trip with win against San Antonio Spurs
The Nuggets (11-7) are on their longest win streak since 2019 and tied for the second-longest active run in the NBA. Michael Malone and his team will hope to keep it going against a typically resilient Spurs team (10-8) Friday night.
San Antonio has quietly been one of the better teams in the NBA, currently sitting seventh in the highly-competitive Western Conference. Defense and rebounding have been the backbone for Gregg Popovich’s team, as the team is ninth in defensive rating (108.5) and eighth overall in rebounding at 46.1 per game. This is a team that has a great mix of veteran stars and up and coming young players. The group has gone 6-4 in its last 10 and has surprised the Lakers and Clippers at home.
This is the first encounter between the two teams this campaign. The Nuggets swept last season’s series between the two teams and have won three overall. Denver has a chance to finish with a perfect 5-0 road trip if it beats San Antonio.
Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
TUNE IN: 6:30 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE
Key Matchup: Gary Harris vs. DeMar DeRozan
The Nuggets have done a great job in containing DeMar DeRozan in the past, but the veteran swingman has added a new wrinkle that could make him harder to guard. After several seasons in San Antonio, DeRozan has finally been given the green light to launch threes and he’s hitting at a respectable 35.5 percent. It is something Denver will have to account for.
Since arriving at the Spurs in the 2018-19 campaign, DeRozan has been largely restricted from taking threes in Popovich’s offense. He went from averaging 1.7 three-point attempts during his time in Toronto to averaging just 0.6 during his first two years in San Antonio.
Gary Harris’ season stats might not jump off the page, but his recent uptick is a big reason why the Nuggets are rolling at the moment. He remains the team’s best on-ball defender, but he’s been making key contributions on the offensive end as well. Harris dropped a season-high seven dimes in Denver’s rout over Miami Wednesday and is averaging 11.4 points on 50 percent shooting. The matchup between these two perimeter players could be one of the big determining factors of Friday’s game.
Slow down Keldon Johnson
The Spurs seemingly find a new breakout young player each season and this year, that’s Keldon Johnson.
The second-year forward is San Antonio’s leading rebounder at 7.4 boards per game and can make an impact on both ends of the floor. It speaks to San Antonio’s ability to continually develop young talent they draft late in the first round or the second round. Although the advanced metrics aren’t kind to the former Wildcat this season, with a -7.1 net rating, he has played a part in the Spurs defying expectations so far. He played a big part in San Antonio’s win over Boston on Jan. 27, dropping 18 points and 10 rebounds. He’s also drawing rave reviews from the local San Antonio media and teammates.
Can the attack on the boards continue?
Arguably the biggest reason behind Denver’s surge has been its dominance on the glass. In the Nuggets’ five-game win streak, the team is currently leading the league in boards at 52.8 per game. Their impact on the offensive boards might be even more significant.
Denver’s ability to chase after it on the offensive end, a league-leading 13.2 offensive boards per game during the win streak, is adding to an already potent offense. In the last five games, the Nuggets are leading the league in shot attempts at 95.2 and are averaging 18.6 second-chance points per game (also first).
Against a Spurs team that doesn’t turnover the ball (first in the league at 10.7 per contest), being more physical will be key.