Good, bad and ugly from the Nuggets’ holiday hangover in Texas

San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots the ball over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half at AT&T Center.
Dec 26, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots the ball over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In just their third game in the last eight days, the Denver Nuggets failed to shake the rust off after the holidays. They fell 111-103 to the San Antonio Spurs in the first matchup of the year between the two teams.

The Nuggets’ second-straight loss posed as their second-worst margin of defeat since early December. The worst defeat was the first leg of the Nuggets’ current losing streak, a 21-point drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Plagued by their interior defense and the prowess of a future Hall of Fame coach, the visiting Nuggets allowed a late run which was the main factor in the loss. While the Nuggets had the hot hand early from outside, winter got the best of the team from the Rocky Mountains for much of the second hand.

Here’s the good, bad, and ugly of the Nuggets’ 11th loss of the year.

Good — Nuggets’ sharpshooters and thieves

Led by Monte Morris and Juancho Hernangomez, the Nuggets shooting from outside and turnover-forcing ways got the best of the home squad.

Hernangomez, the Nuggets starting forward with Will Barton still out, was able to get hot in the first quarter, a catalyst for his season-high 27-point performance. The scoring total also tied Hernangomez’ previous single-game career high.

The Spaniard nailed his first five attempts from deep, riding the spree until midway through the third frame.

With Hernangomez finding his groove, so, too did Morris on both ends of the floor. Leading the bench unit, the guard made 3-of-5 attempts from outside en route to a 15-point tally. On defense, Morris led the turnover charge, swiping three steals as part of the teams’ 10 in the contest. Even Mason Plumlee got in on the action:

Once Morris and Hernangomez saw their runs end, Malik Beasley stepped up.

As part of a career-high 22 points, Beasley hit three-consecutive shots from outside late in the forth to keep the team within reach. Adding to the trend, Beasley also swiped a steal.

Bad — Visitors forgot to pack the textbooks

With winter break befalling a majority of schools throughout the nation, the textbooks have been put on hold. The Spurs, under Coach Gregg Popovich, were not given the memo.

Consistently in their matchup with the Nuggets, the Spurs took the visitors’ defense to school. Taking advantage of multiple ill-advised switches keyed the hosts’ offensive attack for the first half especially.  

Whether it was Hernangomez, Nikola Jokic or Trey Lyles getting switched onto smaller players, the Spurs were utilizing their agility. DeMar DeRozan was able to draw multiple fouls with the switches, with Marco Bellineli stroking several shots from outside due to help defense straying.

In the game, the Spurs shot 46.7 percent from the field and DeRozan accrued 14 free throws en route to his own total of 30 points.

On the other end, the Nuggets constantly fell prey to the Spurs’ clogging of the lane. Settling for runners and floaters, their offense came up short often, clanging multiple shots inside the paint.

The defensive gameplan was hardly new as the Spurs have consistently clogged the lane all year, forcing teams to settle. With both Morris and Jamal Murray being proficient in runners, the defense played well to their driving strengths. If the efficiency inside was heightened, especially in the first half, the two-point deficit heading into the locker room likely ceases to exist.

Ugly — Nuggets once again bullied from inside the arc

Despite their four-day break, the Nuggets were once again dominated down low in their first game after allowing a season-high 80 points in the paint to the Clippers. Though the Spurs’ jerseys were atrocious, so, too was the defense of the Nuggets’ bigs.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Spurs down low, totaling 27 points en route to passing Jason Kidd on the league’s all-time scoring list. Per usual, Aldridge’s shot chart was scattered with mid-range looks, sinking 68.4 percent of his attempts, nary a make from outside.

The Spurs’ reliance on the inside shot only increased with their failures from outside. Due to 31.2-percent mark from outside, Popovich’s squad shied away from their league-leading 3-point attack by percentage.

In all, the Spurs accumulated 48 points in the paint, with 64 points coming inside the arc.

A game plan of Plumlee and Jokic in the starting lineup has piled up wins but limited the Nuggets defense. After heading much of the league in defensive rating early in the year with Millsap, the injury has exposed the teams’ frontcourt.

In the Nuggets’ previous nine games, they had allowed three teams to register a shooting percentage above 50 percent. The Spurs finished just below at the aforementioned 46.7-percent clip.

A chance at redemption comes Friday, this time at the Pepsi Center.

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