Nuggets-Spurs Preview

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs appear to be finding their form as the playoffs draw near, though their modest winning streak has come at the expense of struggling teams.

While Denver Nuggets have fit that billing for most of the season, they’ve looked like an entirely different club since firing Brian Shaw.

San Antonio seeks a fourth straight win Friday night against the rejuvenated Nuggets.

The Spurs’ nine-game rodeo trip began poorly with losses in five of the first seven, but they concluded their travels in strong fashion with wins in Sacramento and Phoenix.

San Antonio (37-23), seventh in the Western Conference, opened a season-high six-game homestand with a 112-85 rout of the Kings on Wednesday. The last three victories have come by an average of 21.7 points, with each opponent scoring 96 or fewer, though those two teams are a combined 11-24 since Jan. 23.

Regardless of the competition, Leonard’s play appears to be a good sign. He scored 21 and was 9 for 11 Wednesday and has averaged 20.0 points on 58.1 percent shooting in the last three. Leonard had been limited to 9.6 points per game on 32.1 percent shooting in his previous seven contests.

The fourth-year pro is still adapting to his role as San Antonio’s top scorer with 15.1 points per game. He’s averaging 12.3 shots compared to 9.8 in 2013-14.

"It’s a big adjustment for me, creating your own shot and creating shots for your team," Leonard said. "I’ve still got to improve."

The Nuggets (22-39) have won two straight under interim coach Melvin Hunt for the first time since a five-game winning streak from Jan. 3-14. They had won two of 21 prior to Shaw’s firing on Tuesday.

A team many thought had quit on Shaw looks motivated, outrebounding Milwaukee and Minnesota after claiming the advantage on the glass once in its previous 21 contests.

Denver gave up 104.2 points per game under Shaw to rank 26th, but held the Bucks and Timberwolves to an average of 90.0 points on 39.9 percent shooting.

Kenneth Faried had 18 points and 14 boards in Wednesday’s 100-85 win versus Minnesota after finishing with 14 and 14 against Milwaukee.

"Coach Mel knows us," Faried said. "He’s been around us a lot longer than coach Shaw has. Coach Mel was around when George Karl was here. When I first got drafted he was here. (Assistant coach Patrick) Mutombo was here for us. They just know our game and our people, and basically how we play off each other."

Also encouraging was the fact that the Nuggets won despite leading scorer Ty Lawson (16.0 ppg) being shut out while missing nine shots. Five players reached double figures to help compensate for Denver, which had been 3-9 when Lawson was held below 10.

San Antonio has won five straight in the series and 14 of 18, including two meetings this season in Denver.

Lawson has been limited to 9.6 points on 30.7 percent shooting in his last eight meetings, while Faried has averaged 20.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last four.