3 Keys to a Series Win Over San Antonio


Regular Season Relevance

Just after midnight ET on the last day of the regular season, everything seemed slightly bleak for the Denver Nuggets playoff outlook. Not only were the Nuggets down nine points to the Wolves with three minutes left, but the Blazers were down 15 points to the Kings heading into the 4th quarter of their game. Had Denver and Portland lost these games, The Nuggets would be playing the Thunder first round, and almost certainly the Rockets in the second round. The Rockets, who have dominated Denver this season in head to heads, would have possessed the 2nd seed and homecourt advantage over Denver as well.

But something clicked with three minutes left in Denver on Wednesday night, and they started playing motivated basketball. Not only did they win to secure the 2 seed, but an improbable comeback from Portland led by 19-year-old Anfernee Simons moved Houston to the 4 seed, thus helping Denver avoid playing either Houston or Golden State until the Conference Finals, (if they make it that far). All of this is great news for Denver, who played well against both Portland and Oklahoma City this season. I do however, realize that I am getting way ahead of myself. The foremost obstacle standing in the way of Denver is the scrappy, disciplined team from San Antonio. So let’s dive into this first round matchup, with three keys to Denver advancing.

1. Nikola Jokic’s Involvement

First and foremost, the obvious X factor is Nikola Jokic. Jokic’s engagement and success has clearly translated to numerous wins this year. It is imperative that Jokic gets involved early and scores when he can. During the Nuggets first game against the Spurs this year, Jokic had four points on 1-for-5 shooting. He disappeared, and they lost.

Denver struggles on three occasions involving Jokic: When he is in foul trouble, when he turns the ball over excessively trying to do too much, and when he struggles with shooting. (especially on the perimeter). In regards to foul trouble, Jokic can get lackadaisical on defense and commit dumb fouls that are unnecessary. He also commits a lot of frustration fouls when calls don’t go his way. He has a history of letting this affect his game. In the playoffs, there is no room for frustration fouls and call arguing that end in technical fouls and lowered minutes.

In regards to San Antonio specifically, LaMarcus Aldridge has “been there and done that”. He knows how to get opposing bigs in foul trouble, and get them frustrated. Denver needs Jokic to be aggressive offensively, and gain confidence by scoring early in the paint. On defense, he needs to only commit fouls when absolutely necessary.

2. Containing Spurs Stars

Secondly, Denver has to contain Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge as best they can. These two put up an average of 42 points per game together, but there are ways to keep them at bay offensively. Denver will likely have Paul Millsap on Aldridge for most of the game, which will be a fun matchup to watch. Millsap is known for his defense, but is still undersized compared to Aldridge. The key to limiting his success will be keeping him off of the offensive boards, which he has a knack for.

The best way to keep DeRozan on his toes is to throw a few different guys at him. Gary Harris is a traditionally good perimeter defender, but is undersized and can be bullied by DeRozan. Malik Beasley is pesky and active on defense, but has limited experience guarding isolation scorers. The best matchup for Denver defensively is Torrey Craig, who is long enough to disrupt jumpers and quick enough to at least stay with a quicker DeRozan on most occasions. The best way to limit DeRozan’s impact is to keep him outside of the paint, forcing him to shoot jumpers as much as possible. Denver will have to help on drives without fouling, and close out strong to the rest of the shooters on kick-outs.

3. The First Quarter

Lastly, Denver has to get off to fast starts in games, (win the first quarter). In head-to-head matchups this season, these two teams split the series, both winning their home games. Two of their head-to-head matchups came down to the final shot, each winning one of those games. One constant in their four meetings is that the team that won the first quarter won the game. This has some to do with the home court advantage and the energy in the arena. Basically, whichever team sets the tone early in games, will have a great chance of winning them.

Recap and Prediction

Denver and San Antonio are both good home teams, which means all signs point to a six or seven game series. The biggest knock on this young Denver team is lack of experience, which is a definite concern with close games in the playoffs. With the experience of DeRozan, Aldridge, and Popovich, the Spurs know how to execute and operate well on the road. They stay level headed and aren’t rattled easily. Denver MUST take care of business at home, or they will be in trouble.

This article wouldn’t be complete without a prediction, so here it is: NUGGETS in 7.

About Fred Albino

I am a Business Management major attending Xavier University, expected to graduate in 2021. I'm from Dayton, Ohio, and I have a huge passion for sports and fitness.

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