Originally posted on Project Spurs  |  Last updated 3/27/13
The matchup of the game for tonight will be between Kawhi Leonard and Danilo Gallinari as the San Antonio Spurs host the Denver Nuggets. This will be the third meeting between the teams, but it will be the first meeting this season between the small forwards. Standing at 6'10" in the small forward spot, he's anything but that. He's one of the toughest players to guard in the league because he can easily shoot over the majority of small forwards in the league. If a team decides to put a power forward or legitimate big man on him, he uses his quick foot speed to get around them and to the rim at ease or baiting the defense for double teams. Leonard will have to work hard against him since he's a few inches shorter at 6'7", but we have seen him do a great job defending the likes of Dirk Nowitzki in the past. What Leonard must do on offense: The Nuggets are not only a team that wants to get up and down on the floor, but they also want to defend like the San Antonio Spurs do with a good balance. The different with the Nuggets is that they're far more athletic on that end than the Spurs, so Leonard will have to look on being as versatile as he can on both ends. Gallinari isn't the best defender either, so he may help find holes in the Denver defense that will help him find open teammates. Leonard may have a hard time going to the rim with JaVale McGee protecting the rim at times, but if he can get by his man he'll find open big men with the opposing bigs' backs turned to them. What Leonard must do on defense: Gallinari is known as one of the NBA's best shooting big men and is very versatile on this end, but he tends to be two dimensional with most of his shots. He's shooting the majority of his shots this season from the restricted area at 56% (115-205) and from 3-point land at the top of the key at 35% (80-229). These two areas aren't the most surprising since they're the easiest set ups during transition for a team looking to run. Leonard has to stay in front of him above the 3-point line and force him to shoot as far away from the basket as possible. While Leonard is shorter than Gallinari, he does have the foot speed to recover from contesting over the 6'10" small forward. Leonard contesting and getting burned wouldn't be the worst thing either since the Spurs rely on help defense when necessary and he'll be met by Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in the paint.
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