The second-seeded Denver Nuggets are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They peaked this year with the superstardom of their unconventional big-man Nikola Jokic and his brilliant offensive creation. Jokic has put up numbers that stack up with the best bigs of any era. Denver has to continue to play solid defense around him.
Denver is an “inexperienced” number-two seed and still have the skepticism of the public despite a fantastic season. Around their unicorn in the middle is a slew of offensive flashbulbs like Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Gary Harris. This is a young group who will be tested by a veteran-laden Spurs team led by DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan himself has some playoff demons to get off of his back.
A success for Denver in this series would validate the start of what they hope will be a homegrown core that will produce devastating offense in the years to come. The Nuggets may be the lowest-profile second seed of all-time. Many fans will be witnessing the majesty of Nikola Jokic on the big stage for the first time.
The Nuggets will take on a familiar face in the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Fans will be looking for a victory with memories of trademark Spurs victories over the Carmelo Anthony led teams in 2005 and 2007. The stars from that team are all gone but Gregg Popovich still has some weapons to work with.
DeMar DeRozan is still one of the league’s best players and was largely consistent for a Spurs team that had its ups and downs before becoming steady and earning their 22nd straight playoff berth. He will be joined by LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay. That gives the veteran coach three battle-tested players to lean on against a Denver team that is trying to have it’s coming out party.
The Spurs take the fewest amount of threes per game but shoot the highest percentage from the arc in the league. That type of opportunistic accuracy and patience is a Popovich signature. The Nuggets will have to be disciplined to win this series.
All times Eastern
- Game 1 (at DEN): Saturday, April 13, 10:30 p.m. — TV: ESPN
- Game 2 (at DEN): Tuesday, April 16, 9 p.m. — TV: NBA TV
- Game 3 (at SA): Thursday, April 18, 9 p.m. — TV: NBA TV
- Game 4 (at SA): Saturday, April 20, 5:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 5* (at DEN): Tuesday, April 23, TBD — TV: TBD
- Game 6* (at SA): Thursday, April 25, TBD — TV: TBD
- Game 7* (at DEN): Saturday, April 27, TBD — TV: TBD
How Can They Succeed?
Nikola Jokic will just have to continue what he’s done in the regular season against a team that will have plenty of time to gameplan for him. The Spurs don’t have an elite interior defense but they are a disciplined team that takes calculated gambles. Their quick guards rotate intelligently on defense to cover any holes. Jokic has a great feel for the positions of his teammates offensively and will need to be fully tapped in and ready to make plays when San Antonio brings the pressure.
On the other end, Jokic will be tasked with taking care of LaMarcus Aldridge which presents its own set of problems. Aldridge and DeRozan may be the league’s two best players from mid-range and will make Denver play defense in space. Jokic is limited athletically and will need to work hard to stay out of foul trouble while effectively guarding the crafty Aldridge.
Jamal Murray will need to be the arrow-shooting deep-range deadeye that he has shown the capability to be in order to stretch the defense and discourage double-teams. If he and the rest of Denver’s shooters are knocking shots down they are extremely difficult to slow down with Jokic playing quarterback from the middle.
Who Is Their X-Factor?
Monte Morris was one of the NBA’s breakout players this season in his sophomore campaign. He averaged 10.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.4 rebounds in 24 minutes per game while shooting 41.1 percent from three. His production off of the bench will be vital against a Spurs team that has noted bench dogs like Patty Mills that keep the sense of urgency up when the starters sit.
Morris had an assist to turnover ratio of 5.71, good for second in the league. Ball security is going to be important so it bodes well that he was able to be such a steady hand for a high-octane offense. In addition to his scoring, Morris has emerged as a secondary playmaker that keeps the offensive gears greased when Nikola Jokic sits. A big series from him can make all the difference. Denver has to score in non-Jokic minutes.
One Positive Stat In Their Favor
The Nuggets have seven players that averaged over 10 points per game. That varied offensive production will be vital against a Spurs team that will be just as creative and versatile defensively. One of the few benefits of getting bit by the injury bug throughout the season is the opportunity for multiple guys to get important minutes. Mike Malone has the “good” problem of having to find the hot hand on a night to night basis.
The playoffs feature shortened rotations but Denver has so many options that they may be able to stay fresher than their opponents as the playoffs continue on.