The two seed vs. seven seed matchup in the Western Conference will feature the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs.
Denver will be making their first playoff appearance since 2013, while San Antonio is in the postseason for the 22nd year in a row behind coach Gregg Popovich. The teams split the regular season series, each team winning two games on their home court.
While a matchup between distant seeds, the Nuggets and Spurs are evenly matched and will make for one of the best first round series of the NBA Playoffs.
The Nuggets have made one of the league’s biggest turnarounds since last season. After missing the playoffs on the final game of the season the previous year, the Nuggets have become one of the league’s best teams, capturing the second seed in the West.
The Nuggets have a well rounded team, with talent at both the back court and front court. Denver is led in points, rebounds, and assists by center Nikola Jokic, who made the All-Star Game for the first time this season. Jokic’s breakout season features a stat line of 20 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
Alongside Jokic is veteran Paul Millsap at the power forward position, averaging 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
At the guard position, the Nuggets have several solid players, including Jamal Murray, who averages 18.2 points. Malik Beasley and Gary Harris also contribute for Denver, who are ranked seventh offensively, behind San Antonio.
San Antonio Spurs
Unlike previous Spurs teams under Popovich, this group is more offensively oriented. Behind the play of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio’s offense is one of the most effective in the league, behind only Golden State in team field goal percentage. They lead the NBA in three point shooting.
DeRozan is having a career-year in terms of assists and rebounds to go along with 21 points per game. Aldridge has had a strong year as well, also averaging 21 and shooting a career-best from the field.
In the first season without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have dropped to 20th in defensive rating, while the Nuggets rank 10th. However, San Antonio defends well in the paint, which will be crucial in slowing down Jokic.
This first round series is hard to predict given how the two teams match up. Millsap and Jokic vs. Aldridge and Spurs center Jakob Poetl will be a big factor. The Spurs will face extra pressure to keep Denver’s big men contained.
Another key to the series will be sixth man play. San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli has averaged 10 points off the bench this season, and Rudy Gay, who comes in and out of the starting lineup is averaging 13.7 points per game.
While getting minimal playing time this year, Isaiah Thomas could give Denver some buckets off the bench. Even while recovering from hip surgery, Thomas showed in his Nuggets debut that he can provide instant offense.
Spurs vs. Nuggets could be a wild card series and can go either way. Denver may need to use all of their home court advantage to fend off San Antonio.
Nuggets in 7
Featured image credited to USA Today.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.