The Denver Nuggets are on a roll, and it would have been tough for them to play much better in their latest win.
The last time the San Antonio Spurs took the court, Gregg Popovich feels his team couldn’t have played any worse.
With Chauncey Billups leading the way, the Nuggets will look for their sixth victory in seven games on Thursday when they host the Spurs, coming off an effort their veteran coach described as “very soft.”
Denver (13-6) was just 1-3 when Billups first entered the lineup after being acquired from Detroit, and the veteran point guard’s presence has made a huge difference. The Nuggets are 12-3 with Billups, and during their current three-game winning streak, he’s been the best player on the court.
Billups had a game-high 27 points in a 106-97 win at Minnesota on Saturday, then had 28 and 10 assists in a 104-94 victory over Houston on Sunday, a game Carmelo Anthony left due to a sprained elbow. Anthony returned Tuesday against Toronto, but it was Billups who led the way again, recording 24 points and 14 assists in a 132-93 rout, tied for Denver’s fifth-largest margin of victory in franchise history.
“It’s just one of those games where it seemed like everything kind of worked,” said Billups, who’s shooting 60.0 percent (12-of-20) from 3-point range in his last three games. “Throughout the season you usually get two or three of those games. Unfortunately, you usually get two or three on the other side, those games where nothing really works.”
Nothing worked for the Spurs after halftime of their latest game. San Antonio (9-8) took a five-point lead into the break at home against Detroit on Tuesday, but fell apart in the second half. The Spurs combined for 32 points in the final two quarters of an 89-77 loss.
Manu Ginobili had 13 points in his first game back in the starting lineup, the first time all season that he, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have been on the floor at the beginning of a game. But after being outscored 28-14 in the fourth quarter, Popovich was hardly concerned with the on-court reunion of his three best players.
“I thought tonight we played very poorly, very unwisely,” Popovich said. “We have too many people playing poorly at this point.
“The most disturbing thing is that we were very soft. I think Detroit intimidated us. It was really sad to watch in that respect. I thought we totally folded to their aggressive play.”
Roger Mason, who started 12 games when Parker and Ginobili were hurt, agreed with his coach.
“We didn’t have the juice, the intensity that we needed to compete at an NBA level,” said Mason, who tied a season-low with six points in his first game off the bench since Nov. 5. “I don’t think we played aggressive enough as a team.”
Neither Parker nor Ginobili was in the lineup during the Spurs’ first game against Denver this season. Rookie George Hill had 20 points in that game for San Antonio, but Duncan was held to just 12 in the Nuggets’ 91-81 win on Nov. 19.
Billups had 22 points and six assists in that meeting, but he’s historically struggled versus Parker and the Spurs. In 11 regular-season games against Parker since arriving in Detroit in 2002-03, Billups is averaging 13.5 points on just 35.6 percent shooting.
Parker is averaging 16.5 points on 49.7 percent shooting in those matchups.
San Antonio lost in both of its trips to Denver last season.