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After long climb to top of West, Nuggets take on Spurs

Mar 13, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA;  Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) takes a shot over Miami Heat guard Terry Rozier (2) during the first half at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

It’s taken a while but the Denver Nuggets have regained the top spot in the Western Conference standings and look to stay there when they take on the San Antonio Spurs on Friday in Austin, Texas.

It’s a battle between the team with the best record in the conference (Denver) and the worst (San Antonio).

The Nuggets (46-20), the defending NBA champions, have won four straight games and 10 of their past 11. They have leapfrogged the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves in the past week and moved into first place alone in the West for the first time since mid-November.

“If we can get (the No. 1 seed), sure, we’re going to take it,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re not going to shy away from that. It was very effective for us last year, having home court throughout the entirety of the playoffs.”

Denver has been the league’s hottest team since the All-Star break. Its most recent victory was a 100-88 decision at Miami on Wednesday in a rematch of last season’s Finals series. Michael Porter Jr. scored a game-high 25 points while Aaron Gordon added 16 points, Jamal Murray had 14 points and Nikola Jokic chipped in 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets in the win.

“You’ve gotta win games when Nikola doesn’t score 40,” said Christian Braun, who had seven points in the fourth quarter to help Denver pull away. “There’s not many times when he doesn’t do that, but in those games, we have guys who can step up.”

The Spurs (14-52) head into Friday’s clash after a 103-101 loss to Houston at home on Tuesday in the second game of a home back-to-back set. Tre Jones had 24 points for San Antonio in the defeat while Jeremy Sochan scored 21, Victor Wembanyama had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Julian Champagnie and Blake Wesley added 10 points each.

San Antonio was down by eight points with 6:19 to play but trimmed the deficit to 99-98 after Sochan’s three-point play with 18.5 seconds left. The Spurs went on to lose their second straight game and fourth in their past five outings.

“We hung in through the second half and we went back and forth,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the loss. “But as is usual in the NBA, down the stretch you got to make shots, and we didn’t.”

San Antonio has six more games remaining in a season-long eight-game homestand and must win seven of its final 16 contests to surpass the franchise’s all-time worst record of 20-62 set during the 1996-97 season.

“Coach (Popovich) said it again tonight in the locker room: ‘It’s our job, and this is what we’re here for — to win as soon as possible but also in the long run,'” Wembanyama said. “So there’s no other option.”

Friday’s game and San Antonio contest against Brooklyn on Sunday will be played about 80 miles north of the Alamo City in the Texas capital and comprise the Spurs’ annual regional outreach.

“I know the fans in Austin that aren’t able to make it to as many games in San Antonio definitely bring that energy there, and that’s something that we feel and look forward to,” Jones said.

–Field Level Media

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