Denver Nuggets (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
The San Antonio Spurs were able to do just as they hoped in finishing the season with another winning record, a 22nd consecutive playoff berth and avoiding a first-round playoff matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for the Spurs, there isn’t an easy matchup in the Western Conference and they will start their playoff-opening series on the road against the number two team in the West, the Denver Nuggets.
The Spurs and Nuggets played four times in the regular season, with each winning two games apiece. The first three games were all close, but the last game in the regular season series was a 113-85 rout by Denver on April 3. The Spurs struggled offensively, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan combining for 27 points. Rookie Lonnie Walker IV had a standout 16-point performance, but he’s not expected to play much in the series. For Denver, Nikola Jokic had a near triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
Considering the regular season series, despite the records and seeds, this is one of the closer Western Conference playoff series. The Spurs have matched up well with the Nuggets. They are two well-coached teams that aren’t overloaded with superstar talent but have deep benches they rely on heavily.
Series TV Schedule
Game 1: Sat, April 13 San Antonio at Denver, 10:30 ET, ESPN
Game 2: Tue, April 16 San Antonio at Denver, 9 ET, NBA TV
Game 3: Thu, April 18 Denver at San Antonio, 9 ET, NBA TV
Game 4: Sat, April 20 Denver at San Antonio, 5:30 ET, TNT
Games 5-7 TBD if necessary
Denver Nuggets Starting Lineup
San Antonio Spurs Starting Lineup
Key Player Matchups
PG: Jamal Murray vs. Derrick White
Edge Denver. Murray can be hit or miss, but when he’s on, the Nuggets’ offensive flows well and he works so well with Nikola Jokic. Derrick White has had an impressive sophomore campaign and the Spurs will look to his pesky defense to try to limit Murray, but Murray has the edge in this matchup.
SG – Gary Harris vs. Bryn Forbes
Edge Even. If this was last year or even the year before, this would go to Denver, but Harris has looked mediocre at times since he has returned from injury. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity at this point, whereas the Spurs know what they’re getting from Forbes. He can get lost on defense at times, but he’s a sharpshooter that spaces the floor and has been consistent all season.
SF – Will Barton vs. DeMar DeRozan
Edge Spurs. DeRozan has had a fantastic season in San Antonio. He’s the Spurs best assist man, works well off of LaMarcus Aldridge and can be a game-changer.
PF – Paul Millsap vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
Edge Spurs. Aldridge has been a beast for the Spurs all season and closed the regular season with a 34-point performance. While this matchup is a bit closer than Barton-DeRozan, at some point Denver may need to provide Millsap help, especially as an undersized four guarding Aldridge’s high-release shot.
C – Nikola Jokic vs. Jakob Poeltl
Edge Denver. And it’s not close. Everything in Denver starts and ends with Jokic. He can finish with a triple-double on any given night and really makes that offense go. Poeltl has had a nice first season in San Antonio, but the talent disparity is definitely there. Look for the Spurs to also matchup Aldridge on Jokic, especially since they are not deep at center.
Coach: Michael Malone vs. Gregg Popovich
Edge Spurs. It’s hard to argue with success, and the Spurs have been to the playoffs for over two decades straight, while this will be Malone’s first trip to the postseason as a head coach. Malone has done a great job at the help in Denver, but the edge would go to San Antonio against likely any other playoff team in this category.
Bench: Edge even. The Nuggets have had to go deep into their roster with the injuries they’ve had this year, and Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Mason Plumlee have come up big for them. The Spurs answer with Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and Marco Belinelli.
Gary Harris – If Harris can return to form a bit and provide the type of scoring punch he did last season, that would go a long way towards the Nuggets being able to punch their ticket to the second round. Harris’ shooting percentages are down and his scoring average is down almost five points. If he can be a consistent third scorer like he was in his last three regular season games, that adds another dimension to this series.
Derrick White – The Spurs have the experience and they have the coaching, but the biggest knock against the Spurs has been their defense, especially on the road. With Dejounte Murray out for the season, White has become the Spurs’ best wing defender and he will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders. If he takes another step and is able to provide solid defense on the road, this could swing things in the Spurs’ favor. At his best, White has blocked six shots in a single game and has been able to give the Spurs a poised ball-handler who can provide some scoring punch. Other times he’s given up 60+ points to James Harden.
Spurs in 7. The Nuggets’ inexperience is a big negative against any team, but especially against a Gregg Popovich-coached San Antonio Spurs team. Denver has looked good all season long, but the question has been how they will look when the games count the most and San Antonio is ready to test the Nuggets’ playoff mettle. Denver will make it a very competitive series, but the Spurs will be able to steal one in the Mile High City that will be a series changer.
For more predictions on this and every series, visit our 2019 NBA Playoff Prediction Roundup.