It's out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Denver Nuggets, who continue a stretch of games against some of the NBA's best teams when they travel to San Antonio for a contest Tuesday against the Spurs at the AT&T Center.
Denver heads to the Alamo City on the heels of a 111-110 loss at home to Boston on Monday in which the Nuggets' Will Barton had a chance to win the game but missed a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets in a losing cause on Monday with 24 points and 11 rebounds as all five of Denver's starters scored at least 14 points. Barton had 19, Mason Plumlee added 16, Gary Harris tallied 15 and Jamal Murray hit for 14.
Trey Lyles poured in 20 points off the bench for the Nuggets, who after the game boarded an overnight flight to south Texas to play the second game of a back-to-back against one of the league's marquee teams.
Before Monday, the Nuggets (26-24) had won three straight games, equaling their best run of games this season. Monday's contest with the Celtics was the final of a five-game homestand. After a stop in San Antonio, Denver returns home for games Thursday against Oklahoma City and Saturday versus Golden State.
"It's going to be a different kind of game each time, and we have learned to win grind-it-out-kinds of games and that's made a difference in things for us this season," Nuggets guard Gary Harris said after Denver's last-second win over Dallas on Saturday. "We've been winning more close games this year than in the past -- I really don't care as long as we win."
The Spurs have had an up-and-down week, but head to Tuesday's game on the heels of a 113-98 win over Sacramento. Bryn Forbes led San Antonio in that victory with a season-high 23 points.
The Spurs also got 15 points apiece from LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili, 14 each from Pau Gasol and Dejounte Murray, and 11 points from Patty Mills. Gasol added 11 rebounds and Murray took 10 boards as San Antonio beat the Kings for the 13th straight time and for the 10th consecutive game played in the Alamo City.
But there was nothing easy about the win. San Antonio trailed 50-49 at halftime and the contest was a nip-and-tuck battle until the Spurs forged a 14-0 run over the final 3:47 of the third quarter and the first two minutes of the fourth to break open the game. Sacramento never got closer than seven points during the contest's final 10 minutes.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who turned 69 on Sunday, praised Forbes and Murray, who started his fifth straight game at the point, made all six of his field-goal attempts and dished out six assists. Murray also didn't have a turnover in 26 minutes of court time
"In the second half, Bryn and Dejounte were great at both ends of the court," Popovich said. "That's the effort and execution that you need. They were great and other people followed. Their intensity and execution was very good."
Ginobili contributed mightily in his first game back after missing six contests with a right thigh contusion. Popovich said the veteran's mere presence on the court gave the Spurs (33-19) a lift that was palpable.
"There's no doubt that their confidence level goes up and they feel a little bit more organized with guys like Manu in the lineup," Popovich said. "It's kind of like they go into battle with guys like that. It makes you feel better, so it was wonderful to have him back."
Monday's contest against Denver is the third of a five-game homestand for the Spurs, who have won three of their past four outings but just five of their previous 10 games.
The two teams played in Denver on Jan. 13, with San Antonio crushing the Nuggets 112-80. The Spurs own a 115-65 edge over Denver and have won 71 of the 90 games the two teams have played in San Antonio.