SAN ANTONIO SPURS (28-7)
at DENVER NUGGETS (14-21)
Tip-off: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: San Antonio -7.5, Total: 213
On the fringe of the Western Conference playoff picture, Denver gets a tough matchup in San Antonio.
The Spurs bounced back from one of their few losses this season with one of their best wins on Tuesday night, a 110-82 home trouncing of the Toronto Raptors, one of the NBA’s elite teams (SAS -6). The win improved their record to 28-7, only 2.5 games back of the conference-leading Warriors—but also only 1.5 games ahead of the third-place Rockets. At 21-13-1 against the spread, the Spurs have the league’s third best ATS record behind Houston and Toronto. On Tuesday, San Antonio held that Raptors team to a season-low point total and outshot them from the field 55.1% to 37.3%. The Spurs now get Thursday night’s late slot on national TV on the road against the Denver Nuggets. The Nugs are on a three-game losing streak, with one of those losses coming against the Warriors but two coming against lesser teams in the 76ers and, most recently, the Kings. Denver lost 120-113 at home against Sacramento on Tuesday night, dropping their record to 14-21 (17-17-1 ATS). They are 10th in the Western Conference, only one game back of the eighth-place Kings. They outshot Sacramento 47.4% to 37.9% from three, but were dominated on the inside—DeMarcus Cousins scored 31. Over the last five seasons, underdogs of 3.5 to 9.5 points allowing at least 103.0 points per game are 49-86 ATS against opponents coming off of a game in which they scored at least 110 points. In the same timeframe, teams with losing records coming off a SU loss as a home favorite are 105-58 Over against the total when it is at least 200. Denver PF Kenneth Faried is questionable to play with a back injury.
The Spurs have the league’s fifth-best offense according to offensive efficiency rating, averaging 112.4 points per 100 possessions. They rank second on defense, allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions. Their methodical pace of 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes is the fourth slowest in the NBA. After finishing as the runner-up in the MVP race last season, SF Kawhi Leonard (24.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.0 SPG) has only continued to improve. He is scoring and handing out assists at a career-high rate, as he has become one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll ball handlers in the NBA. He is also fifth in the league in steals, and remains its most threatening perimeter defender. After sitting out two games and then scoring only 13 in a loss to the Hawks on New Year’s Day, Leonard scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting against Toronto. He played 28 minutes in each of those games (33.2 season average), so he may still be recovering somewhat from the stomach virus that kept him out. The team’s next leading scorer is PF LaMarcus Aldridge (17.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG), who has seemingly been unable to miss shots recently. In his last five games, he has shot a total of 50-for-68 from the field, a remarkable average of 73.5%. His 50.2% field goal percentage for the year is 25th in the league and seventh among power forwards. 36-year-old C Pau Gasol (12.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG) has shown that he is still a force inside. PGs Tony Parker (11.1 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Patty Mills (10.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) get about equal minutes. SG Danny Green (7.9 PPG) is shooting 46.9% from deep but taking fewer field goal attempts than he has since the 2010-11 season.
Denver has the ninth-ranked offense in efficiency rating with 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions, and they allow 111.9 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-worst such number in the league. They play the sixth-fastest pace in the league at 97.9 possessions per 48 minutes. The Nuggets are led in scoring by SF Danilo Gallinari (17.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG), who they are happy to have back in the lineup after he missed much of last season with a serious injury. As the league’s 47th-leading scorer, though, he does not rank among the guys you would consider No. 1 scoring options. He matched a season high with 24 points against the Kings. Denver distributes its scoring load quite evenly, as six players average over 12.5 points per game. SF Wilson Chandler (16.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) typically comes off the bench, while SG Will Barton (13.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG), who was a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year last season, has started more than half his games. SG Gary Harris missed about 20 games to start the year, but was inserted into the starting lineup upon his return. One thing that separates the team from others is the bruising duo of PF Nikola Jokic (12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.7 APG) and C Jusuf Nurkic (9.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG), although, unfortunately, they don’t mesh stylistically with each other. Jokic averaged 17.0 points per game in December and is averaging 19.5 PPG in two games so far this month. PG Emmanuel Mudiay (12.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.9 APG) is still figuring things out.