The San Antonio Spurs' unusually weird season - on and off the court - continues. The Spurs (35-24) went into the All-Star break losing three straight games, and five of their last six. And now, the drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard and his apparent unwillingness to play despite being medically cleared has put more confusion on their whole situation.
Nevertheless, the Spurs must soldier on and begin the post-All-Star portion of their schedule where they ended it: in Denver. They lost, 117-109, although they were clearly not at their best. Apart from Leonard being out, LaMarcus Aldridge was also sitting out due to a sore knee. However, he should be back for this upcoming contest.
Contrary to the Spurs, the Nuggets (32-26) have been rolling of late. They’ve won three in a row and six of their last seven. They could so easily be 11-1 in their last 12 games had it not been for back-to-back one-possession losses to the Celtics and Spurs.
They made up for that tough defeat against San Antonio by topping them at home just before the break. Nikola Jokic was outstanding as he went for 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. However, he was even better against the Milwaukee Bucks, as he delivered another remarkable triple-double of 30 points, 15 rebounds, and a career-high 17 assists.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage – The Nuggets have been terrific at home this season. They are 23-7 at the Pepsi Center and have won seven of their last eight. In contrast, the Spurs have been disastrous on the road. They’re a mere 13-18 on the road and have lost three of their last four.
Nuggets’ supporting cast – Jokic has been outstanding for the Nuggets this month and has orchestrated their impressive run. But while he’s been pretty reliable, it’s his supporting cast’s success against the Spurs that could prove to be the difference. Luckily, Wilson Chandler has finally shown signs of life just prior to the All-Star break, while Will Barton and Jamal Murray have been having impressive months as well. If Jokic can get the same help that those three provided last time against the Spurs (54 combined points), then the Nuggets will be in great shape.
Spurs scoring – Aldridge’s return to the lineup should be a big boost to the Spurs, who aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut these days without Leonard. However, they can still find surprising performances from the likes of Joffrey Lauvergne, who unexpectedly dropped 26 points (12-15 FG) and 11 rebounds against the Nuggets. Tony Parker also chipped in with 17 points off the bench. The Spurs will need more of that production from their fringe players to keep pace with the explosive Nuggets offense.
Matchup to watch
Kyle Anderson vs Will Barton – Anderson was a complete no-show in the most recent meeting against the Nuggets as he had just two points in 21 minutes. That was quite a departure from the 18 he had against them on Jan. 30. The Spurs obviously need a bit more production from him on the wing. But apart from his offense, the Spurs will need Anderson’s defense in terms of helping contain Barton, who has been playing some outstanding basketball of late.
Spurs projected starting lineup
PG – Dejounte Murray | SG – Danny Green | SF – Kyle Anderson | PF – LaMarcus Aldridge | C – Davis Bertans
Nuggets projected starting lineup
PG – Jamal Murray | SG – Gary Harris | SF – Will Barton | PF – Wilson Chandler | C – Nikola Jokic
Prior to missing the last two games heading into the break, Aldridge had been playing very well. He was averaging 24 points and seven rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the field in his past five games, a streak which started when he dropped 30 on Denver.
As for the Nuggets, Jokic is the obvious standout fantasy player. He’s averaging an impressive 21.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 9.6 assists in February, and has recorded four triple-doubles in his last ten games. Moreover, he’s averaging a near triple-double in three meetings against the Spurs this season with 19.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 8.7 assists.
It's too soon to write off the Spurs. As bad as they've been lately, they're still an impeccably drilled team. It's hard to imagine Gregg Popovich not using all that time during the All-Star break to get his team back on track. While the Nuggets have been excellent at home, let's take the Spurs as 3.5-point road underdogs.
The Spurs learn from their mistakes during their recent trip to Denver and use it to top the Nuggets, 104-101.
This game will be broadcast on Altitude and Fox Sports Southwest. Tip-off is at 9:00 pm Eastern.