Spurs looking to bounce back against Nuggets

It’s a five-game sprint to the finish for San Antonio in its hunt for an NBA-record 23rd straight trip to the playoffs.

And while all games in the league’s seeding tournament are crucial, Wednesday afternoon’s dustup against the Denver Nuggets near Orlando marks the Spurs’ biggest challenge to date since the reboot.

The Spurs (29-37) dropped from ninth to 10th place in the Western Conference after a 132-130 loss to Philadelphia on Monday. The defeat snapped a three-game win streak for San Antonio dating back to March 10 — the final game before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the season.

DeMar DeRozan paced the Spurs with 30 points, while Rudy Gay added a season-high 24, Derrick White had 20 and Keldon Johnson contributed a career-best 15 points in the loss. Dejounte Murray hit for 13 for San Antonio, which trailed by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter and rallied to lead late before running out of steam.

“We’re resilient,” DeRozan said. “We’re not just going to go out and let teams beat up on us like we’re easy pushovers. We’re here for a reason and we’re going to compete no matter who we have.”

San Antonio was one of three teams that just played three games in a four-day stretch. The Spurs went 2-1 over that span; the other two teams, Memphis and Washington, went 0-3. The Spurs are tied with the Portland Trail Blazers, two games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“With three starters out and three games in four nights, I thought we did a hell of a job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought we responded wonderfully. We are fighting to get into the playoffs, so it stings a lot. But the young guys got to play a lot, so that’s good.”

The Nuggets, despite already clinching a playoff spot, still have plenty for which to play. Denver (44-23) heads into play Wednesday with the third seed in the Western Conference. But the Nuggets can still climb as high as second in the West or fall to as low as sixth.

Denver still has six games to play, with the contest with the Spurs on Wednesday the first of a back-to-back.

The Nuggets won for the first time in the reboot when they outlasted Oklahoma City 121-113 in overtime on Monday. Michael Porter Jr. scored a career-high 37 points and Nikola Jokic had a triple-double (30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in the victory.

Thirteen of Jokic’s points came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“(Jokic’s) the best center in the NBA, and when he’s aggressive, good things happen,” Denver coach Mike Malone said.

“We needed it,” Jokic said. “Just to the guys that are here — this is I think their 24th day, 27th day that they are here — and they are working and it has kind of paid off a little bit. But, of course, this is our goal to win the game.”

Monte Morris and Paul Millsap each scored 17 points for the Nuggets in the win.

The win was a huge bounce-back from the Nuggets’ opener in the restart, when they were sloppy and lax defensively in a 125-105 loss to Miami.

Denver played without three starters — Jamal Murray (left hamstring tightness), Will Barton (left knee soreness) and Gary Harris (strained right hip). No update was given as to the return dates of the injured trio or their availability for Wednesday’s game.

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