In typical Spurs fashion, San Antonio is flying under the radar this season. Even the LaMarcus Aldridge buyout was fairly muted compared to most of the rackets around the league.
This is probably the youngest the Spurs have been since Gregg Popovich took over in the late ‘90s and they've been fairly exciting with their diverse youth movement. The Spurs’ three best young players – Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Derrick White – were all 29th picks in their respective drafts, showing just how good the Spurs are at scouting developing talent.
While those three have had their off nights, the Spurs have leaned on veteran DeMar DeRozan, who has put up All-Star averages this year of 21.1 points, 7.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds. San Antonio has also found key contributions off the bench from Rudy Gay and Patty Mills.
This is still far in talent from the San Antonio teams that made the playoffs for 20 years straight, but the organization's adaptability to still put out a great team that plays a contemporary style of basketball on a small market budget is very commendable. While having middling offensive and defensive ratings, the Spurs are still in the thick of the Western Conference play-in race with a 24-24 record.
Which makes their showdown versus the Denver Nuggets, currently on a six-game win streak, tomorrow at 9:00 AM on NBA TV Philippines all the more crucial. The Nuggets have recently picked up the pace after a slow first half of the season, winning eight of their last 10 games and posting the best offensive rating in the league in that span.
Behind MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic, Denver has been ripping through quality opponents with wins over teams sprinting towards the playoffs. Adding Aaron Gordon has also been a big boon for a Nuggets offense that appreciates his slashing and dunking. In just four games with Denver, Gordon has played the best basketball of his career as a target for Jokic's lobs. He's scoring 14.3 points per game, mostly off easy opportunities, and shooting a whooping 64.3 percent from the field.
Getting healthier has also helped the Nuggets with their starters recovering from nagging early injuries, though Jamal Murray may miss tomorrow's game to rest a sore knee.
At 32-18, the Nuggets are just one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the third seed and 2.5 behind the second-seeded Phoenix Suns. Having home court advantage could be the decider in the stacked Western Conference.
Consider tomorrow’ Denver-San Antonio matchup a playoff preview as they could meet in the first round. The Spurs only have Jakob Poeltl as a big man to match-up against Jokic so look for The Joker to have a monster line. It's going to be key for the Spurs to limit the rest of the Nuggets and shut down their screen-and-cut heavy system.
Given the disparity in records and the brutal home court advantage that is Colorado's altitude, the Nuggets seem to have the edge in the matchup. But it's always been unwise to bet against the Spurs. Popovich has yet to meet a system he couldn't crack.