(2) DENVER NUGGETS VS. (7) SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Game 1 Time: 9:30 PM CST (ESPN)
Line: DEN -5.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Denver Nuggets finished just behind the Golden State Warriors, but no one is ready to hand it this series against one of the toughest #7 seeds in recent history. Gregg Popovich finds a way to ready and steady his teams, and the Denver Nuggets are the newest contender to join the fold in the West. While Denver is undoubtedly a tough force on its home court, will that advantage sustain it over a seven-game series against one of the NBA’s greatest all-time coaches, DeMar DeRozan, and a veteran LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs? Let us delve deeper into these quandaries in attempts to figure out the potential victor of this highly intriguing series in the Western Conference.
Denver is one of the most uniquely structured teams in the Association. Its high-scoring offense runs, not through a point guard, but through the hands of the incredibly gifted and talented center Nikola Jokic. Jokic is expected to finish in the top-five of MVP voting, and rightfully so— he led all big men in assists, and led the Nuggets in assists, while still granting Jamal Murray plenty of room to have a breakout season of his own. Between Murray and Jokic, the Nuggets have essentially two playmakers, albeit it changes many things in the structure of an atypical Nuggets’ attack. The thing is, it largely worked, as Denver led Golden State in the standing throughout much of the second half before eventually succumbing and “losing” out on the No. 1 seed by a mere two games. No one necessarily expected Denver to be that close, nor on top, but by this point, everyone has awoken to the fact that Denver is a legitimate threat to every other contender, including the vaunted Warriors.
But its task begins with the Spurs, a team that manages to put up impressive scoring numbers of its own behind a deep rotation that features two scores over 20 points per game and nearly seven averaging double figures. San Antonio amassed 111.7 points per game. Most concerning perhaps for the Spurs, is that the club tallied just a 16-25 mark on the road this season where it will spend the majority of this series if it extends past the opening games. San Antonio may show itself to be a different team in the postseason, but the disparity between its road play and home games is something that, naturally, must be illuminated.
Aldridge is still a force at the 4-spot despite not being quite the heavy scorer he was earlier in his NBA career while in Portland. He averaged 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while posting the team’s highest PER (22.98). DeRozan accepted a lesser scoring role than what he saw while a member of the Toronto Raptors, but thrived a second option alongside Aldridge. The All-Star averaged 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists while augmenting the Spurs’ other wing rather nicely. Rudy Gay averaged 13.7 points and shot 40 percent from three-point range. The Spurs attempt 25.3 threes per game while hitting 9.9, and Bryn Forbes is an underrated part of that picture. The 2-guard shot 42.6 percent from three while taking five a game. Forbes was a relative unknown prior to this breakout season.
For the Nuggets, the focus will be on trying to exploit the defense of Aldridge at the 5-spot: Denver’s offense already runs through Jokic, but if it can manage to get Aldridge either worn out, or in foul trouble, its task will be much easier in winning any particular game, or the whole series. Conversely, San Antonio has an advantage on the wings with Gay and DeRozan both experienced and consistent against a trio rotation of Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, and Will Barton. While Harris is a top defender, Beasley and Barton are average at best, and they will need to be on top of rotations to prevent Gay from getting it going from behind the arc. The Spurs are a sneaky offensive squad, capable of putting up big scoring numbers without having an elite top-15 scorer on its roster. DeRozan and Aldridge cannot be slept on, as both were once No. 1 options for their respective clubs before becoming Spurs. And, of course, Popovich found a way to blend their talents to get the Spurs in the postseason— once again, and as always.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6