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The Denver Nuggets enjoyed an excellent run in the regular season, but now face the challenge of continuing their form into the latter stages of the NBA Playoffs.
Michael Malone’s men have returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. However, they face one of the toughest units in the NBA in the form of the San Antonio Spurs.
At one point in the campaign, it appeared as though the Nuggets were on course to claim the number one seed in the Western Conference ahead of the Golden State Warriors.
Denver had an excellent season by their standards, winning the Northwest Division and over 50 games. However, it was still no enough to edge out the Warriors, finishing three games behind their rivals.
It has set up a daunting challenge against the Spurs, who have an abundance of playoff experience and arguably the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich.
DeMar DeRozan had a solid first season following his trade from the Toronto Raptors, which saw Kawhi Leonard move in the opposite direction. LaMarcus Aldridge remained on form at the age of 33, and the hopes of the Spurs will be pinned on the duo with the club in the midst of a rebuild.
They remain a dangerous team with Popovich and his formidable post-season record. It could be a fascinating contest between the two sides, trending in different directions.
The Nuggets have a lot of young exciting players that were outstanding over the course of the season. Jamal Murray enjoyed an impressive third year in the NBA, taking significant strides forward in his development. Murray spent more time on the court than any Denver player during the regular season in his 76 games. He averaged 18.2 points per game along with 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds. All eyes will be on the 22-year-old to see if he maintain the high standard of his play in the post-season.
Nikola Jokic has been arguably even better than Murray and will hold greater importance in putting points on the board. The center was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, becoming a dominant force at both ends of the court. Jokic notched career-highs across the board in points per game, rebounds, steals and assists. The 24-year-old has the star power needed to thrive in the post-season, although he will draw the attention of Popovich’s gameplan.
Gary Harris and Malik Beasley will have to play minutes to ease the pressure on the Nuggets’ stars. One of the strengths of Denver’s roster has been their depth. Harris, Beasley, Mason Plumlee, Will Barton and Monte Morris have to carry their share of the load, producing in the time they get on the court and not being a detriment to the team.
Given that many of the Nuggets’ roster will be playing in the playoffs for the first time, the experience of Paul Millsap will be crucial. The 34-year-old has nine years of post-season basketball under his belt, and was a potent threat for the Atlanta Hawks in 2017. His leadership will be a vital tool for the younger players on the court.
San Antonio secured a post-season berth for the 22nd year on the bounce as a result of their 48-win campaign. The Spurs are in the process of overhauling their roster after the loss of Leonard, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, who were crucial in their triumph in the Finals in 2014.
It is a testament to the quality of the coaching of Popovich that he has managed to keep his team competitive. Others have opted to go through the losing process to restock their rosters, notably the Philadelphia 76ers. However, San Antonio have remained in the playoff hunt, even though they would not have wanted to relinquish Leonard, who was expected to be the heir apparent to Duncan to carry on the legacy.
DeRozan is not the same player as Leonard. He’s a quality option, but does not boast the talent of the 2014 Finals MVP at both ends of the court. DeRozan has been solid in Popovich’s system, averaging 21.2 points per game. The 29-year-old has been inconsistent in the post-season during his career, failing to lift the Toronto Raptors into the NBA Finals during his tenure at the club.
Now working in together with Popovich it will be curious to see whether he can find his form. Aldridge will help ease the burden on his team-mate. He has been there and seen it all before, reaching the All-Star game for the seventh time in his career this term.
Those two players will have to fire for the Spurs to advance as there are a lot of decent players on the roster, but no superstars on the rise. It will be grit and experience that will battle the youthful Nuggets in the first round.
The balance of power in the fixture has been with the Spurs, although the two teams played out a 2-2 draw in their series over the course of the season. San Antonio won the first game of the series on home soil as DeRozan and Aldridge guided their side to an eight-point win.
Murray took centre stage as Denver edged out a 102-99 triumph at the end of the December as the point guard notched 31 points. It was closer still back in Texas, although Popovich’s men secured the win by a single point. Denver cruised to a comfortable victory in the last meeting on April 3. Jokic, Morris and Beasley were the leading men for the Nuggets in a strong performance.
It should be a thrilling series between the two teams that are seemingly opposites. One has youthful exuberance on their side, while the other has experience. Expect the Nuggets to come out firing in their first playoff match in six years. The young players will feed off the energy of the crowd, although Malone will have to ensure that they are not overly hyped up.
Back them to see out the win due to extra quality on the court at -230 with Bovada. The Spurs should make a series out of the contest and it would not be a surprise to see it go the distance. However, take the Nuggets to see it out at odds of -240 with BetOnline as tiring legs could be an issue for San Antonio seven games in.
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