Since the Miami game turned out to be more of a pop quiz than a test for the Nuggets, tonights game against the Spurs in San Antonio will likely prove to be the first time this team has been truly tested in a looooooooong time. The Spurs don't have an elite record to start the year, but turned in a solid performance in a loss against Boston a few nights ago and if Michael Finley had been wearing shoes 2 sizes smaller, they had a good chance at coming away with a win in that game as well. Despite their early struggles, this is a team that many predicted to be the one with the best chance at unseating the Lakers in the Western Conference this year, so it will certainly be a challenge to beat them on the road. I have 5 questions leading into this game that I hope can be answered by the end of the night, they are as follows:
- How will the Spurs choose to defend Melo? With longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen no longer around, who's going to draw the unenviable task of trying to guard the Western Conference's reigning Player of the Month? Richard Jefferson will line up across from him, but has never been known as much of a defensive stopper. Looking at the roster, I really don't see a single player with the size and quickness combination to do it, so this will be interesting to see.
- How will the Nuggets contain Tony Longoria? Chauncey has had his issues with quicker point guards so far this season, so it's going to take a team effort to keep Mr. Eva Longoria from having a big game. The biggest asset the Nuggets have here is the athleticism of Nene, Birdman and K Mart. Assuming Parker makes his way past his initial defender a few times tonight, he'll still have to find a way to get his shots over the Nuggets' high flying trio of frontcourt players. He's a sneaky one, and usually manages to get his points, but this match-up should be a fun one to watch with the Nuggets' big guys playing as well as they have been defensively recently.
- Will Poppovich play any of his regular starters? Last season, when the Spurs were a little banged up and it seemed clear that the Nuggets were playing at a higher level overall, Coach Pop decided to hold out his best 3 players in a ploy to keep Denver from gaining a psychological edge by beating a full-strength Spurs team. The plan backfired big time when that game turned out to be the difference in playoff seeding at the end of the regular season. With the Nuggets firing on all cylinders at the moment and the Spurs still finding their groove, are there any other mind games that Pop has up his sleeves? It will be interesting to see.
- Can the Nuggets prove that they are winners on the road? Much has been made of Denver's "struggles" away from the Pepsi Center this season, but as you can tell by the quotation marks, I don't subscribe to this line of thinking. While they have yet to see many of the NBA's elite, logistically, the Nuggets schedule has been ridiculous to start the year. 3 of the 4 road losses came against solid teams on the Nuggets 6 game road trip that contained 3 sets of back-to-back games, the other road loss being the indefensible loss to the Clippers at the Staple's Center. I contend that the Nuggets have yet to have a chance to really prove what kind of road team they're going to be this season, and tonight's contest will go a long way towards showing us that.
And finally, the most important question of all...
- What sounds better, Manu Bartokomous or Balki Ginobili? And as a secondary question, who would his "Larry Appleton" be? As for the initial question, Balki Ginobili clearly has a better sound and flow to it, but Manu Bartokomous tends to make the absurdity of the name a little more clear. Maybe I'll go with Balku Bartokonobili. For the second question, you could say it's Tony Parker because they're partners in crime, or Coach Pop because he's always telling him what to do. Personally though, I'm going with Tim Duncan since the "Tim Duncan Face" reminds me a lot of Larry Appleton's expressions of exasperation.
- Pop Culture Bonus Question for readers: What popular sit-com was a direct offshoot of Perfect Stranger?
I won't be able to post a Recap after the game tonight, so I'm hoping that the answers to all of these questions will be evident by the time the final buzzer sounds. I think this is a good match up for us at this point, we have the bigs to limit Duncan and protect the rim against Parker, we have a stopper in Afflalo to limit Ginobili, and I think Melo will have a much easier time guarding Richard Jefferson than Jefferson will trying to stop Melo. It's looking good on paper and hopefully tonight we'll see a passing of the torch as the Spurs, despite their best off-season efforts give way to the new Western Conference powerhouse, our Denver Nuggets.
Game Prediction: Nuggets 112, Spurs 104