Nuggets visit Spurs, look to pull closer to West crown

Field Level Media

April 11, 2024 at 10:40 pm.

The Denver Nuggets will look to move closer to securing the top seed in the West when they travel to San Antonio to battle the short-handed Spurs on Friday in the penultimate game of the regular season for both teams.

The Nuggets roll into the Alamo City after a rollicking 116-107 home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday that allowed Denver (56-24) to take sole possession of first place in the Western Conference.

Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic went 16 of 20 from the floor and scored 24 of his game-high 41 points in the second half in Wednesday’s win. He added 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals for the Nuggets, who can clinch the West crown with wins in San Antonio on Friday and in Memphis in Sunday.

Denver also got 20 points from a banged-up Jamal Murray while Michael Porter Jr. had 18.

Minnesota is tied with Oklahoma City at one game behind Denver in the West standings and holds the tiebreaker with the Nuggets. That means Denver had no room for error over the last two games.

“I have a feeling that we’re probably going to see (Minnesota) again in the playoffs,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “It will be a hell of a series because they’re a very good team. They’re well-coached and they have a lot of talent over there.”

The Nuggets trailed by as many as seven points before finishing the third period on a 9-1 run that produced an 83-80 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. That’s when Denver flexed its muscle and finished with a flurry.

The Spurs return home for their final two games after a 127-89 loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday. San Antonio played without erstwhile rookie of the year candidate Victor Wembanyama, who sat out the second game of a road back-to-back to manage a right ankle injury.

Zach Collins scored 20 points to lead the Spurs in Wednesday’s defeat, which guaranteed its second straight 60-loss campaign and fourth in franchise history. San Antonio scored only 11 points in a horrid first quarter and shot a season-low 33.3 percent (32 of 96) from the floor in the setback.

Sidy Cissoko added a career-high 14 points for the Spurs in Wednesday’s loss while RaiQuan Gray and Tre Jones scored 13 each. Both Cissoko and Gray spent the entire season in the G-League before this week.

“Doesn’t matter what’s going on on the court, it’s about them executing — how to play not just with each other, but improving their individual games,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said of his inexperienced players. “They’re all young guys trying to make a career. So all the minutes of that experience adds up over time.”

The Spurs (20-60) have been playing without starters Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan and key reserve Keldon Johnson because of injuries.

San Antonio has to win one of its final two games to avoid tying its worst full season record in franchise history as set in 1997 (20-62). Getting that done against the Nuggets will be difficult, but the Spurs finish the season against league doormat Detroit, one of two teams (with Washington) that’s played worse than San Antonio in 2023-24.

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