The San Antonio Spurs are on a grueling three-week, eight-game road trip, and so far it hasn't gone as hoped for the storied franchise.
San Antonio is limping into its fifth game of the long trek, and it may be the most difficult one. The Spurs have dropped the first four, including a 122-102 loss at Sacramento on Saturday night, and now face the surging Nuggets in Denver on Monday night.
The Nuggets have won three in a row and seven of their last nine, including big wins at Milwaukee and Utah, the latter with a shortened roster due to injury and trades. Now they head home for two games before the NBA All-Star break looking to close out a strong first half of the season.
They're also getting healthier, as evident by Jamal Murray's 36-point night in a win at Phoenix on Saturday. Murray missed 10 games with a sprained left ankle but returned against Portland on Tuesday. He looked fully healed in hitting 14 of 17 shots and six 3-pointers in the 117-108 win over the Suns.
Saturday's game also marked the return of forward Paul Millsap from a left knee contusion. Millsap hadn't played since Jan. 6 -- a span of 15 games -- but had 12 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes against Phoenix.
Denver is still without Will Barton (knee), Michael Porter Jr. (ankle) and Mason Plumlee (foot) but reinforcements have arrived. Keita Bates-Diop, acquired from Minnesota, along with Noah Vonleh, in a four-team deal last week, played 14 minutes on Saturday while Jordan McRae, who came over from Washington, was also available.
The decision to bring back Millsap with just a few games before the nine-day break was intended to get the forward some rhythm.
"It's always a fine line of three games before the All-Star break, getting him out there, getting him some minutes and weighing that against, do you just continue to rehab, treatment, recovery and maybe come back after the break?" Nuggets coach Michael Malone said prior to Saturday's game.
Millsap will face a challenge in trying to stop San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but the bigger task is not overlooking the reeling Spurs. San Antonio is just a few games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and a few wins before the break could give the team much-needed momentum.
The issue for the Spurs lately has been playing consistently throughout the game. In the loss to the Kings they were outscored 70-53 in the second half after a solid first half.
"We have a problem sustaining good play for 48 minutes," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said after the loss. "At the end of the third quarter, the last four minutes, it was a great game and we get outscored 17-2 with the second team out there. That's unacceptable. Those guys have to man up and play better."
Monday could provide a little more incentive. This is the first time the teams are meeting since the first round of the 2019 playoffs when the seventh-seeded Spurs took the Nuggets to a seventh game in Denver, a game the Nuggets squeaked out 90-86.
--Field Level Media