Spurs vs. Nuggets Give and Go Preview

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After a disappointing come-from-ahead loss against the New York Knicks on Thursday night, the Spurs face the Denver Nuggets at the AT&T Center. Matt Moore is a longtime friend of 48MoH and the senior blogger at CBS Sports Eye on Basketball. Matt recently moved to the Denver area, where he’s spent a lot of time around the Nuggets this season. I invited him to chat about tonight’s Spurs-Nuggets matchup and explain to us why he hates Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and the rest of the San Antonio Spurs so much.

Unfortunately, the Spurs will be without Kawhi Leonard for this game and the next few after he was shelved for 10-14 days with quadriceps tendonitis.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: At this point, are the Nuggets showing the potential to compete for the West crown?

Matt Moore, Eye on Basketball: Not at all. They look like an 8th seed at best, and they have to legitimately fix a lot of problems if they’re going to get there.

AM: What sort of problems?

MM: They can’t shoot. That tends to cause problems in the NBA. Free throw shooting. 3-point shooting. At the rim. It’s bad all over offensively, and this is a team that’s always been great offensively. Danilo Gallinari has to somehow find his way back to being a good 3-point shooter, and it seems so far away he may not be able to. Their best shooter, Jordan Hamilton, has problems defensively, their best bench defender, Corey Brewer, is inconsistent from the perimeter.

Maybe their biggest problem is the dribble-drive offense they’ve installed. The idea is to use their perimeter penetration to either get to the rim or create open 3s. But what’s happening is they drive and then kick, and then the good shooters are hesitating, kick-starting the entire process again, and the bad shooters are missing. Throw in the fact that they can’t finish around the rim and Kenneth Faried does nine bad things for every 10 good, and you have a 4-5 record.

AM: That’s interesting, because a lot of the numbers were pointing to this team possibly being a contender, or at least a good regular season team.

MM: They should be. They probably will be. They just haven’t been.

AM: Are they just in a lull to start the year, or are these serious flaws they have to improve?

MM: It’s both, like it is with most things. Honestly Corey Brewer has been a better shooter than he was against Miami, and if he had been, that would have swung the tide and we’re talking about a 5-4 team with a win over the Heat and it looks good. They’ve had a BRUTAL opening schedule. 17 of 23 are on the road. They have over a quarter of their road games before Thanksgiving. And they’re going to get better at the rim. You see bits and flashes of how it’s going to work, with Iguodala and Lawson driving to the rim and then dishing to Faried, McGee, or Koufos. But those guys have to start catching the ball, and finishing.

The defense has been surprisingly good. But if they don’t find some guys to space the floor and draw the defense out, they’re going to have a hard time of it, and i don’t know right now if they have that guy or not.

AM: When the Nuggets need a basket late in a game, what do they do? Who do they go to?

MM: They go to Gallo. Why do you ask? I’ll tell you why.

I got nothing.

Here’s the insane part. While teams with more talent like the Heat and San Antonio are running full sets in crunch time to get open looks for shooters, a team with no superstar is opting for isolation with the skill-limited, ball-handling-challenged Iguodala over the explosive point guard who is their best shooter and Iguodala who is their most athletic player. It makes no sense.

AM: Head asplode.

MM: So much head asplode. Gallo’s been responsible for both losses to the Heat for going hero-ball. It’s mind-numbingly stupid.

AM: He doesn’t seem like that type of player to me. I can picture him catching-and-shooting and getting the ball on the wing and dribbling past a closing-out defender. That’s the gist of it.

MM: I mean, he’s got some of that skill. He is very talented. He can finish in traffic, and going to him wound up with a dunk vs. the Warriors to push it to 2OT. But the Heat are not the Warriors, and the Nuggets need to be running sets to create open high percentage looks. Instead, they’re going hero ball.

AM: So how do you see them matching up against the Spurs on Saturday night? When they played in the preseason, Corey Brewer killed the Spurs, but that was of course preseason and Stephen Jackson was barely awake.

MM: Well, Jackson’s going to have bigger worries, but I like it for the Spurs offensively. Shane Battier told me yesterday that the killer with the Spurs is that they make you make a series of tough decisions and punish you for whichever one you make. And the nuggets make terrible perimeter decisions.

It should be an up-and-down game and I expect Ty Lawson to have a bounce-back game against Tony Parker’s defense, but San Antonio just has too much firepower for a Nuggets team that can’t score.

AM: So the Spurs are the puppet master from the Saw movies?

MM: That’s a pretty righteous comparison, but they’re also playing chess while these other fools are playing checkers, so to speak.

You can sacrifice the queen, or the rook, but you’re giving up something and it’s going to hurt.

AM: From what you’ve seen of San Antonio thus far, what’s the biggest flaw they need to improve upon?

MM: Nothing.

I’m not kidding.

They have a 99 defensive efficiency, the offense hasn’t been gangbusters but you know it’ll open up and explode. I think Tony Parker needs to be more aggressive, I think they need to work harder at getting Kawhi Leonard the ball on the backdoor cut. I think they need to not play Tiago Splitter or find another backup center. And I think they need to make a million more HEB commercials.

That’s it.

AM: I don’t know how to take that. I don’t want you to get my hopes up, because you’ve been a jinx when we had you on the podcast the last two playoffs and you talked them up.

MM: But no one remembers that! They only remember the Danny Green thing! And I LOVE Danny Green, he’s been so phenomenal this year, too, especially defensively.

The Spurs just have so many things going right for them. Tim Duncan works so hard to stay in a condition he can make an impact, their system is great, they have no drama, no distractions. They are what other teams should strive to be.

AM: Before I let you go, rationalize your irrational hatred for Tiago Splitter.

MM: GUH.

Look, I had high hopes for Splitter, as everyone did I think, coming out of Brazil. But every time he makes a hook shot, I get 15 ‘SEEEE?!” comments. Then you go back and look at the numbers, and he KILLS their defense. On top of that, when you watch him, he’s more harm than good. He gets blocked in key situations. He blows rotations. His pick-and-roll defense is either too aggressive and he winds up lost on the perimeter or not enough and he gets blown by.

I think Splitter’s a fine, reliable role player, but if you’re relying on him in the playoffs to protect at the rim, it probably won’t work out well. Maybe he’ll improve. I just haven’t seen it.

AM: Now I think the Spurs need Splitter to play well and for the team to play well with Splitter in order to be successful against teams like the Lakers and Grizzlies. Could there be an adjustment period that he has to go through in order for the number to get better when he’s playing with the starters? Because, in his defense, the bench as a whole has been disappointing so far this season.

MM: I mean, I’m on this kick of looking at the fact that big men in this league don’t really develop until they’re 26 or 27. He’s 27. He’s been with San Antonio several years. He should be starting to get it down. I mean, think about the upgrade if you replaced Tiago Splitter with Nick Collison. Good. God.

The stuff you don’t see in the box score or highlight reel really kills you with Splitter, and that’s why Blair is back in the rotation.

AM: I’m not saying developing individually, but comfort in playing with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and other guys who he doesn’t get a lot of minutes with normally.

MM: That’s what I’m saying, though. Yes, playing with the starters matters, but their defensive sets aren’t going to change dramatically. There are little adjustments, but not getting caught too far out is not something that’s affected by the bench unit. Also, Tony Parker and he combine for a 116 defensive rating this year.

AM: He’s essentially playing a different position when playing with Duncan, though, isn’t he? With Duncan, Splitter is forced to play more power forward defensively, depending on the team, right? Or am I just picturing it wrong in my head?

MM: This is one of those opinion vs. fact things. Duncan plays center in that he plays low. But to me, they’re asking Splitter to be Fabricio Oberto: clean up, make the right moves. And he’s not. THAT’S A BAD SIGN WHEN I’M SAYING, MAN, HE NEEDS TO BE MORE LIKE FABRICIO OBERTO.

AM: Everyone should be more like Fab Oberto.

MM: Also, he and Duncan have a 106 defensive efficiency. I’m going to bet that’s one of the worst pairings with Duncan out there. That’s the second highest defensive efficiency pairing with Duncan behind Gary Neal. And that’s a big! That’s a terrible sign!

AM: Alright, give me one random prediction for Saturday night that has nothing to do with the final score.

MM: Uh, the Nuggets will have a higher OREB% but the Spurs will have a better PPP off offensive rebounds.