The Denver Nuggets may be the hottest team in the Western Conference, but the San Antonio Spurs are coming off a convincing victory over the reigning NBA champions.
The Nuggets look to extend their winning streak to five when they open their season series with the Spurs on Saturday night in Texas.
Denver (6-2) is handling the congested schedule created by the lockout rather well thus far, winning four straight games in a five-day span.
The Nuggets won 96-88 at New Orleans on Friday, forcing 17 turnovers and blocking six shots. They have 23 blocks over their last three games.
"When we play really good defense, our offense is easy and we usually win games," said Danilo Gallinari, who has one block in each of the last three contests. "We have to be focused every time."
Gallinari enjoyed his best performance of the young season Friday, finishing with 23 points and six assists. He's topped 20 points three times during the winning streak.
Denver is averaging 102.4 points per game, being held under 90 just once - in its last loss, a 92-89 defeat at the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday.
The Nuggets will likely be in for a stiff test against the Spurs, who are among the best defensive teams in the league, yielding 91.1 points per game.
San Antonio (5-2) had a sterling defensive performance in Thursday's 93-71 rout of Dallas, winning a second consecutive game without Manu Ginobili, who is expected to miss about six weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken left hand.
"It's important," forward Matt Bonner said of beating the reigning NBA champions. "It's a long season, it's early in the season. They were coming off a back-to-back, so you've gotta keep some perspective. We played hard, protected our home court, and we're happy with the win."
The Spurs have won eight consecutive regular season home games dating to their last three of 2010-11. They beat the Nuggets in both home matchups last season, and won three of four meetings overall.
Tim Duncan averaged 15.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in three meetings with Denver last season. A sprained left ankle sidelined him for a 115-112 road defeat to the Nuggets on March 23, ending San Antonio's five-game winning streak in the series.
The 15th-year veteran has struggled at times this season, averaging 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds. He made 4 of 13 shots an finished with 10 points and five boards Thursday.
Bonner picked up the slack for Duncan against Dallas, scoring a season-high 17 points to outscore Duncan and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who combined for 16 points.
"That was a Christmas miracle," said Bonner, a career 6.8 points per game scorer.
Denver could use a better performance from leading scorer Ty Lawson (16.1 ppg), who had 12 points and eight assists Friday but missed 10 of 13 field-goal attempts.