NBA

Spurs-Nuggets Preview

In another season, San Antonio might have gotten heavy attention as the team off to the best start with the calendar nearing December.

That's not the case with the league's defending champions still unbeaten, but the Spurs have always been OK with quiet and unassuming - and 12-3 is still 12-3 even in the context and shadow of 16-0 Golden State.

After remaining perfect in San Antonio through a three-game homestand, a manageable road test comes Friday night against the sliding Denver Nuggets with winning and losing streaks on the line for each.

San Antonio (12-3) got to 8-0 at home with a third straight win and ninth in its last 10, beating Dallas 88-83 on Wednesday. It was the Spurs' worst scoring effort and their third-worst shooting night (40.7 percent), but they got 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 4 of 7 from 3-point range out of Kawhi Leonard.

While the 24-year-old Leonard has been a fixture in San Antonio for some time, winning the NBA Finals MVP two seasons ago, one of his newest teammates is beginning to appreciate his fellow forward's worth first hand.

"(Kawhi's) growing," LaMarcus Aldridge said. "I never really watched the Spurs play too much last year. I don't know if he played to this level last year, but he's definitely playing at a big-time level. He's taking big-time shots and making them for us."

Leonard has averaged 25.0 points and shot 58.8 percent with 10.5 rebounds in the last two games, but such efforts are becoming commonplace with the fifth-year man out of San Diego State scoring 21.8 per game for the season.

Aldridge is second on the team at 15.5 - modest by the former Portland star's standards - but it's allowed the aging trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to defer some responsibility. Aldridge, who returned from a two-game absence due to a mild left ankle sprain, was 8 for 17 from the field against the Mavericks.

"I gained energy; fresh legs," Aldridge said. "Watching the games, I learned my spots a little bit better. I gained rather than lose anything."

The team results have been impressive throughout the frontcourt learning curve, maybe more so on the defensive end with the Spurs limiting teams to a league-low 90.5 points on 42.3 percent shooting, which ranks fourth. No team has hit 49.0 percent against them, and the average of 6.3 3-pointers they're allowing trails only the Warriors.

San Antonio limited the Nuggets (6-9) to 38.8 percent in a 109-98 home win Nov. 18, its eighth straight victory in the series with those wins coming by an average of 14.0 points. That includes four straight in Denver, and the Nuggets haven't shown any signs of being able to stop that losing streak or their four-game overall slide.

The latest loss to the Spurs began the skid and the last three have come at home after Tuesday's 111-94 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers marked the worst of the bunch.

"You have to have a short-term memory," coach Michael Malone said. "We have to be a little more mentally tough."

Danilo Gallinari had 20 points and 18 rebounds, but most of his offense continued to come from the foul line. He was 15 of 16 at the stripe and 2 of 10 from the field, dropping his field-goal percentage to 25.0 over the last three games.

It doesn't get any easier against the defense-savvy Leonard, who has also managed 21.7 points in his last three against the Nuggets.

Denver's Kenneth Faried will miss a third straight game with a sprained left ankle. Joffrey Lauvergne (low-back strain) has missed the last 12 but went through a full practice Thursday.

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