3 Things to watch for when San Antonio Spurs take on the Denver Nuggets

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for a loose ball at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for a loose ball at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
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DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for a loose ball at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for a loose ball at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs can improve to 3-1 against the Denver Nuggets

Much to the enjoyment of their fans, the San Antonio Spurs have been one of the surprises of the NBA restart. They’re not getting as much national attention as some of the other teams scrapping for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference but the Spurs are very much in the race.

After two impressive wins against the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs came up short in their third game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Late game mistakes and a few questionable calls by the officiating staff ultimately cost San Antonio the game but there was still plenty to like about how the Spurs played.

With injuries forcing the Spurs to get creative, the coaching staff has gone all-in on a fast-paced, perimeter-oriented lineup that has been playing at one of the fastest paces of the teams in Orlando. The young Spurs are flying around and looking good doing it.

DeMar DeRozan is playing power forward, Derrick White is hitting almost 50 percent of his 3-pointers, and Rudy Gay is playing center. If you’re just tuning into the Spurs this might all seem wildly unexpected, but just go with it.

This team is breaking the mold of what we had come to expect from them over the first part of the regular season and looking good doing it. And while player development and trying new things is the primary focus you can be sure this group is still taking the floor every day with winning every game as their goal. Their next opportunity comes tomorrow afternoon against the Denver Nuggets, here’s what to watch for when the two teams take the court.

Next: Who's guarding MPJ?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 03: Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against Abdel Nader #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 03: Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against Abdel Nader #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

Who will the San Antonio Spurs put on Michael Porter Jr?

Back in July, we identified Michael Porter Jr. as one of the underrated players the San Antonio Spurs would face in the bubble that could give them problems. So far he’s made that pick look pretty good.

After an underwhelming first game in Orlando, Porter didn’t take long to bounce back. He put up 37 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, shattering his previous career-high and looking very much like the player that many had tapped as a number one overall pick before injuries robbed him of most of his college career.

The Spurs have had to get creative with their frontcourt rotations in the aftermath of injuries to Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge. DeMar has done great filling in as their starting power forward but he doesn’t have the length or defensive chops to stay with Porter when he’s as hot as he was against the Thunder. He’s just too athletic and too capable of a shooter, even if DeRozan plays perfect defense MPJ can simply rise and fire over the top of him.

Rudy Gay will likely have a big hand in guarding Porter as well but the x-factor might be Keldon Johnson. Big Body Johnson has been amazing so far, using his physicality and motor to get to the rim and finish while absorbing contact. But let’s see how he does on the other end of the floor.

Johnson has shown tremendous defensive potential but he hasn’t had any standout defensive performances in Orlando, put him on Porter, and see if that changes against the Nuggets.

Next: Spurs need more from Jakob Poeltl

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs attempts to block a shot by Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs attempts to block a shot by Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs need more from Jakob Poeltl

Dejounte Murray is going to catch a lot of flak for the San Antonio Spurs loss to the Philadelphia 76ers but we can’t dump the majority of the blame at his feet. There was plenty that went wrong over the full 48 minutes that cost the Spurs the game.

One thing in particular that stood out was Jakob Poeltl’s subpar defense against Joel Embiid. It wasn’t quite the 41 point, 21 rebound brutalization that Jojo lumped on the Pacers but his 27 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assist game against San Antonio was the driving force behind the 76ers close win.

Things didn’t go Poeltl’s way right from the jump. Two early fouls put him in a tough position and there were many times where Embiid went right through him, knowing that Poeltl would have to choose besides taking the contact and risking the foul or just getting out of his way. Early foul trouble has been an issue for Poeltl over the past two games and Nikola Jokic is sure to come out aggressive if he’s been paying attention to that minor detail.

Poeltl made a real impression on Spurs fans with his defense on Jokic during the first round of the 2019 playoffs and has played well against Jokic in the meetings between the two teams this year but he’s still going to have his hands full. The Nuggets are one of the most dangerous teams the Spurs will have to face over their final five games and if Jokic is able to run wild they’re going to have a tough time coming away with a win.

Next: Can Rudy Gay stay hot?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 03: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs defends Josh Richardson #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 03: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs defends Josh Richardson #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs should continue to lean on Rudy Gay down the stretch

The young players have gotten the majority of the attention that has come the San Antonio Spurs way but their not the only ones contributing to the team’s recent success. Give Rudy Gay his due too.

This season was a disappointment for Gay. Some of his best games have come in the bubble and he’s been a steady scoring presence off the bench for San Antonio. He’s averaging just over 18 points per game and giving the Spurs another valuable asset in their already shallow frontcourt.

Against the supersized Nuggets the Spurs coaching staff is likely to lean on him once again. With Jokic functioning as a 7-foot point guard, the Nuggets can go huge, starting multiple players who are pushing close to 7-feet if they choose. It’s not out of the question for them to play Jokic, MPJ, Bol Bol, and Paul Millsap together, putting the Spurs at a sizeable height disadvantage.

This, along with whatever foul trouble Poeltl may or may not find himself in, could push Gay into a heavy minute load like the one we saw him get in each of the Spurs’ previous contests. If that’s the case, let’s hope his solid 3-point shooting continues.

Next. White’s 3-point shooting is saving the San Antonio Spurs

It’s a mid-afternoon game tomorrow so set a ‘meeting’ on your calendar and hope your boss doesn’t need anything, the two teams take the floor at 3 pm CST.

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