The San Antonio Spurs got the matchup they wanted. They are playing an inexperienced playoff team that was consistent all year long but have no experience to lean on. The Denver Nuggets, therefore, are the anti-Spurs. The Spurs have two playoff veterans in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge who can score. Not to mention Gregg Popovich’s excellence at game preparation and adjustments. Although, playing at the Pepsi Center is loud and the air is thinner so players get fatigued early, the Spurs don’t play fast. You can’t dismiss that the pressure is on the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have to confirm that what they did all year long is more than a regular season storyline.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been here before. In 2014 when he was a co-star of the Blazers he went into Houston and did this:
Game 1: 46 points. 18 rebounds. 31 shots and 54% shooting.
Game 2: 43 points. 8 rebounds. 28 shots. 64% shooting.
Against the Nuggets, Aldridge doesn’t really have anyone who can stop him. In the regular season, he averaged 22 points on 55% shooting, 32 minutes per game against the Nuggets. The teams split their four meetings, including a 28 point Denver win ten days ago. Neither team won on the others home floor. Because the Nuggets are the higher seed, one more home game would give them the advantage. But you cannot discount the importance of playoff experience and Gregg Popovich.
This is a game begging for LaMarcus Aldridge to take it over.
Over his career, Aldridge has struggled with his own identity. At times, he has excelled at being the player who carries a team night in and night out. He’s unselfish and that’s a good thing. But other times, he seems comfortable and not pressed, as if he is just another role player.
On this Spurs team, not a championship contender, he has to do more, just as an example. It will be a challenge more on the defensive end as Nikola Jokic is constantly moving around the court but offensively he can do the same, make Jokic have to work very hard. That only happens with an aggressive Aldridge.
Aldridge at the height of his game relieves stress on DeMar DeRozan who has struggled in the playoffs, 41%, 101 Offensive Rating. DeRozan has his own matchup problem with Gary Harris, but like Aldridge, Harris has to guard DeRozan who, when he is on his game and not feeling pressure, is unstoppable in his midrange game.
The Spurs 1-2 Aldridge DeRozan punch, players who can both drop 40 and who have been through a lot of career adversity, are why the Spurs are underdogs but not really. And if they pull off the upset we’ll know why.