Preview: Denver Nuggets start final homestand against San Antonio Spurs

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (47-32) have just three games remaining heading into tonight’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs (33-45). The Nuggets, after three straight seasons with a top-four seed in the Western Conference, can finish no higher than fifth after the Dallas Mavericks clinched their spot on Sunday. However, they can go a long way towards securing that spot with a win tonight.

For Denver, they’ve had a couple of up and down stretches since the All-Star Break, but they’ve turned things around as of late with four wins in their last five games. This comes at the right time for a team looking to be playing their best basketball when the lights shine the brightest in the playoffs. After months in the middle, Denver is looking to make their move.

For San Antonio, they caught some of the worst luck with injuries. Breakout point guard Dejounte Murray is still dealing with the effects of an upper respiratory infection that has caused him to miss the last two games, along with tonight’s contest. They’ve won six of their last seven, with the lone loss being a one-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies while creeping into the 10th spot in the Western Conference. Now, they’re just trying to hold on for a shot at the play-in tournament.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (47-32, 22-16 home) vs San Antonio Spurs (33-45, 17-21 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Pounding The Rock

Expected Starting Lineups:

SAS: PG Tre Jones, SG Joshua Primo, SF Devin Vassell, PF Keldon Johnson, C Jakob Poeltl

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Dejounte Murray (illness), Jakob Poeltl (back), Zeke Nnaji (knee), Jamal Murray (knee), Michael Porter Jr. (back)

Three Things to Watch

Containing Keldon Johnson

With Murray out of the lineup, the Spurs’ primary scorer and offensive weapon is going to be Keldon Johnson. The third-year forward out of Kentucky is second on the team with 16.9 points per game while shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range on 5.3 attempts per game. Johnson has exploded for huge games this season, and Denver has to control that tonight.

Win the Bench Battle

Denver’s bench has been an issue all year. One thing that would help is if they weren’t playing without two guys that would be in that first unit off of the bench, but that’s not what we’re discussing. The Spurs are fourth in bench points this season, while Denver is 24th. A big Bones Hyland game could be huge here. With Jones forced to start, that shrinks the number of available players for San Antonio, so it will be important for Denver to attack their opponents off of the dribble.

Play the Second Half

The Nuggets have a -2.7 net rating in the second half of games, while the Spurs have a +0.3. Even when they build big leads, Denver finds a way to let their opponents back into the game. That can’t happen tonight, as the Spurs aren’t a team that’s just going to roll over and give the Nuggets the win. Play all the way to the final whistle and come out of this game with a win.

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