Spurs-Nuggets Preview

The Denver Nuggets will undoubtedly be a tough out once the

playoffs start. Their current defensive form could vault them into

a title contender.

The Nuggets try to keep sole possession of the Northwest

Division lead and extend their current winning streak to five games

Saturday night when they host the San Antonio Spurs.

Only one game separates second-place Denver (52-27) from fifth

in the Western Conference, which at the very least could be the

difference between a division title and starting the postseason on

the road. The Nuggets have a tenuous one-half game lead over Utah

in the Northwest but have picked an opportune time to clamp down

defensively and augment an offense that averages 106.6 points per

game – good for second in the league.

Denver forced Oklahoma City to miss its final 13 shots in

Wednesday’s 98-94 road victory, and star forward Carmelo Anthony

made the key play without the ball in Thursday’s 98-96 win over the

Lakers, blocking Derek Fisher’s potential game-tying jumper at the

buzzer.

“Feels good to do something else, though, other than hitting a

game-winner,” said Anthony, who scored 31 points. “That felt just

as good as hitting the game-winner. It was a game-winner.”

When Anthony and the Nuggets focus defensively, they are hard to

beat. They have limited opponents to 93.0 points per game on 42.1

percent shooting during their winning streak – well below their

respective season marks of 102.1 points and 45.6 percent – and are

30-3 when holding foes under 100 points.

The Nuggets have to like their chances of delivering defensively

with Kenyon Martin returning Saturday. The veteran forward will

play against San Antonio after missing 18 games with patellar

tendinitis in his left knee. Martin underwent platelet-rich plasma

therapy March 8 and has been working out with the goal of returning

before the playoffs start.

Denver can clinch its second straight division title with

victories in this game and Monday at home against Memphis.

San Antonio (48-31) knows all about championship-caliber

defense, the driving force of its four titles since the start of

the 1999 lockout-shortened season. The Spurs, though, are currently

eighth in the West and need to win two of their final three games

to avoid finishing with fewer than 50 wins in a full season for the

first time since 1996-97.

They head to the Pepsi Center looking to avoid a third

consecutive loss following a 107-99 home loss to the Grizzlies on

Friday. Manu Ginobili scored 26 points hours after signing a $39

million extension, but San Antonio allowed Memphis to shoot 49

percent from the field and amass a 48-39 edge in rebounds.

“We are in a great fight with Portland and Oklahoma City,”

Ginobili said. “We let this one get away. We should have won and

at least taken a one-game advantage.”

The loss dropped the Spurs into eighth in the West, which would

relegate them to a first-round series with the top-seeded and

reigning NBA champion Lakers. San Antonio could finish as high as

fifth by winning its final three games depending on how its

tiebreakers against Oklahoma City, Portland and Phoenix play

out.

The Argentine guard, though, continued his torrid scoring run.

He has averaged 25.8 points his last 12 games, well above his

season average of 15.5 points, while shooting 47.4 percent.

Ginobili has scored 14.3 points per game versus Denver this season,

but has been limited to 32.3 percent (10 for 31) shooting in those

games.

The Nuggets won both games at San Antonio, but the Spurs shot

53.2 percent and had seven players reach double figures in a 111-92

victory Feb. 11 at Denver in the most recent meeting.