Once upon a time, the dreaded Spurs were not the team the Nuggets wanted to face—in the regular season or postseason. Tim Duncan was the best power forward in the game, Bruce Bowen and double teams frustrated Carmelo Anthony, and San Antonio’s deft defense was enough to slow even the uber-potent Denver offense.
The two teams met up in the first round of the NBA playoffs in 2004 and after stealing the first game, Denver lost the next four and the series. The 2007 season brought the same exact results; the Spurs were elite and the Nuggets, wannabees.
But as the time has passed, the Spurs have grown old and rusty and the Nuggets have matured like fine wine.
Anthony is arguably the MVP of the NBA this season, the league’s second leading scorer, and he’s finally learned how to lead.
The unchallenged leader for Denver is Chauncey Billups though, and while he’s in the backcourt, the Nuggets reach their full potential. Billups is playing the best basketball of his career; his career-high 39 points and nine three-pointers against LA were a testimonial, and he acts like an on-court coach while instructing teammates.
Denver (35-17) is flying high, winning seven of their last 10 games, and their leader Melo is back from a two-week injury. However, San Antonio (29-21) is struggling. The Spurs are only 4-6 in their last 10 and are one of seven Western teams with double digit home losses already.
San Antonio strain to score at times (100.7 per) while Denver is the second highest scoring team in basketball (107.5). The Spurs are the eighth best defensive team, but if the Nuggets can move the ball effectively in the half court, they will increase their chances of winning. Also, Denver must look to use their athleticism and get easy baskets on the break.
The Nuggets have a great chance to pull out a victory tonight (8:30 PM MT, TNT) while at the same time gaining momentum heading into the All-Star break. Not that Denver’s stars will be getting much rest, as Anthony is a starter, Billups is a backup and three-point contestant, and George Karl and his coaching staff will be there to lead the West’s stars.
Update: The Spurs led 54-45 at halftime as the Nuggets shot only 1-8 from downtown and were flat on offense and defense.
Update: The Nuggets came out looking like their typical selves to start the second half, driving to the hoop for a few easy baskets and got the lead down to four points. But after the first three minutes of the third quarter, Denver could never get over the hump. San Antonio beat the Nuggets in Denver 111-92.
The Nuggets couldn't find that magic that they've played with for much of the season, and possibly because lots of them are looking forward to this weekend's All Star game and the break. Denver is still a young team and they must stay focused on the ultimate goal of winning the NBA Championship.
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