Intrigue highlights first Nuggets-Spurs matchup

Two of the NBA’s most intriguing teams, the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets, meet for the first time this season on Wednesday when both return from a five-day Christmas break for a contest at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Then they will play again in Denver on Friday.

The Nuggets (21-10) have been one of the league’s surprises, forging the best record in the Western Conference. But Denver heads to the Alamo City on the heels of its first loss in five games, a 132-111 setback at the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Denver had won four straight by beating Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Dallas, respectively before Saturday. The Nuggets fell behind 12 points late in the first quarter and had to play catch up the rest of the game.

“From the get-go, we just weren’t here,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “A lot of defensive breakdowns, just not ready to play.”

Jamal Murray finished with 18 points for the Nuggets in the loss, while Monte Morris added 15 points, Trey Lyles hit for 13 and Malik Beasley (11) also finished in double-figures in scoring.

Denver center Nikola Jokic, who was ejected midway through the third quarter, finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes.

The Nuggets allowed the Clippers to shoot 57.6 percent from the field, with 80 of those points in the paint, and allowed their highest point total of the season. Los Angeles outrebounded the Nuggets 56-37.

“Los Angeles lived in our paint,” Malone said. “When they did miss, which was not very often, it seemed like they got every offensive rebound. They outworked us. They were more physical than us and they wanted it more.”

It was the Nuggets’ worst loss of the season; until Saturday they had not lost by more than 10 points.

The Spurs (18-16) fell at Houston 108-101 on Saturday, losing for just the second time in their last nine games. San Antonio had garnered each of its previous five victories by at least 25 points, only the second team in NBA history to claim that feat,

The Spurs were outrebounded 58-43 by Houston and gave up a season-high 19 offensive boards.

“Overall, the killer was the offensive boards,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the loss.

DeMar DeRozan led San Antonio with 28 points and eight assists in the loss. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 points, and Rudy Gay added 13.

The Spurs trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter before mounting a comeback to briefly regain the lead.

“We’ve gotten better, for sure,” Aldridge said. “We’re playing a better brand of basketball, and I think we’ve learned how to play better with each other, and we’ll get better, too.”

The Spurs and Nuggets split their season series 2-2 in 2017-18, with the both teams winning their game on their home courts. San Antonio still holds a 116-67 all-time advantage over Denver. The two teams were among the four that joined the NBA as part of its merger with the ABA in 1976.