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Game Preview: What to Watch For in the Nuggets Game at San Antonio

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

SAN ANTONIO – The Nuggets finish the second of four back-to-backs in January with a game tonight against the San Antonio Spurs. It is the first meeting between the two teams this season, but it also marks the beginning of four Nuggets-Spurs matchups in the next 42 days – so roughly one game against the Spurs every 10 days until Feb. 23.

The Nuggets enter tonight’s game coming off a victory on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs have alternated wins and losses since Dec. 30 and lost their last game, 93-81 at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Beating the Spurs in San Antonio, however, is a tall task.

They have 13 straight wins at home and have not lost at the AT&T Center since Nov. 10, when the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Spurs, 94-87. San Antonio is 18-2 at home overall this season, which is the best home record in the NBA.

The Nuggets haven’t won in San Antonio since Mar. 4, 2012, a streak of nine straight losses.

So, how do the Nuggets get their first win here in nearly six years? Start with these things.

Rinse and repeat: The Nuggets won a slow-down, defense-first game over Memphis on Friday night at the Pepsi Center. That will prove to be a good warmup for tonight. The Spurs have the second-best defense in the NBA, holding opponents to just 98.3 points per game this season. The Nuggets are 5-8 this season when scoring under 100 points, a vast improvement over last season when they were 0-13 in games they were held under the century mark. Execute in half-court offense and play solid defense and the Nuggets will find themselves in the game with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

Solve the Spurs bigs: In general this season the Spurs have been forced to play games without star guard Kawhi Leonard due to various injuries. Because of that, they’ve leaned heavily on LaMarcus Aldridge for point production and Pau Gasol for playmaking and defense. And those two have delivered. Aldridge is in the NBA’s top 20 in both scoring (22.6 points per game) and rebounding (8.7 rebounds per game). Meanwhile, Gasol does a little of everything averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and is second on the Spurs with 3.2 assists per game. Both Aldridge and Gasol are blocking 1.1 shots per outing. Gasol has had big games against the Nuggets before. Nikola Jokić and Mason Plumlee have their work cut out for them in slowing down these two bigs.

Keep points off of turnovers low: There is one common denominator in many of the Nuggets road losses this season – points off of turnovers were high. In fact, when the Nuggets allow more than 20 points off of turnovers on the road this season, they are 0-6. This is of particular concern against a Spurs defense that is good at getting stops and turnovers. The Nuggets must take extra care of the basketball and not let points off of miscues pinball out of control.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter