The San Antonio Spurs (35-23) are in a legitimate slump. They’ve now dropped four of their last five games, two of which have come at the hands of the Utah Jazz. Despite the absence of Ricky Rubio, the Jazz were able to claw their way back from a fourth-quarter deficit to edge out the Spurs last night, 101-99. The Spurs, who were without LaMarcus Aldridge, were led by Kyle Anderson (16 points) and veteran big man Pau Gasol (15 points, 15 rebounds, six assists). Dejounte Murray also returned to the lineup after a sprained ankle and added 12 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 29 minutes.
On the flipside, the Denver Nuggets (30-26) have won four of their last five contests. They bounced back from a heavy defeat at Houston to beat the Phoenix Suns, 123-113, in their latest outing. Wilson Chandler led a balanced Nuggets attack with a season-high 26 points. Nikola Jokic flirted with a triple-double as he had 21 points, nine boards, and eight assists in just 27 minutes of action. Will Barton also kept up his impressive run of late as he finished with 25 points (10-14 FG, 4-6 3-PT FG), five rebounds, and five assists.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage – The Nuggets will have a clear home-court advantage in this contest. Not only are they an impressive 22-7 on their home floor, they will also be rested while the Spurs are on the second night of a back-to-back. Moreover, the Spurs have been surprisingly poor on their travels this season at just 13-17. The Nuggets very nearly took down the Spurs in San Antonio a few weeks ago, and they could finally get the job done on their home floor.
Spurs scoring – As if being without Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay hasn’t been enough, the Spurs will now be without their All-Star big man Aldridge until after the break due to a knee injury. Gasol may have to play on the second night of a back-to-back in Aldridge’s absence, but if he doesn't, it remains to be seen just how effective he will be. Without him, it’s hard to see exactly who else can step up and take charge of the offense for San Antonio.
Jamal Murray – After a string of consistent performances, Murray has fallen back down to earth recently. He’s scored a total of just 18 points with one 3-pointer in his last two games. The Nuggets need him to get back to his aggressive play of a couple weeks ago, when he led Denver with 18 points in their two-point defeat against the Spurs.
Matchup to watch
Kyle Anderson vs Will Barton – Anderson has been popping up with some impressive performances from the Spurs lately. He’ll have to keep that up with the Spurs so short on scoring at the moment. However, he’ll also have the challenging task of going up against Will Barton, who has been playing some very good basketball of late.
Spurs projected starting lineup
PG – Dejounte Murray | SG – Danny Green | SF – Kyle Anderson | PF – Davis Bertans | C – Pau Gasol
Nuggets projected starting lineup
PG – Jamal Murray | SG – Gary Harris | SF – Will Barton | PF – Wilson Chandler | C – Nikola Jokic
The likes of Bertans and Anderson will continue to get opportunities to play and produce with Aldridge out. However, Gasol will likely remain the Spurs' focal point offensively. He had 18 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in his most recent meeting with the Nuggets. While his status on the second night of a back-to-back is still unclear, he should be one of the Spurs' most productive players if he does suit up.
On the Denver side, Will Barton has been really good recently. The swingman is averaging 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists in his last five games. He shot just 4-of-13 for 13 points against the Spurs, but still came away with five steals. Expect Barton to put pressure on a Spurs team that's going on a back-to-back.
There seem to be too many factors pointing in the Nuggets' direction. It's hard to see the shorthanded San Antonio overcoming their curiously bad road form at Mile High on the second night of a back-to-back. The Nuggets should be fired up to face the Spurs again after just falling short of beating them last time out.
The Nuggets prolong the Spurs' slide as they get the 112-104 home win.
This game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 10:30 pm Eastern.