The Spurs’ win in Phoenix on Thursday night improved their record to 21-5 for the year but tougher challenges lie ahead. Over the next 8 days, San Antonio faces a grueling schedule. Houston, the Clippers and the Bulls are 3 of the team's next 5 opponents. Having already dropped a game to each team, the next week offers the Spurs a chance a to silence any doubts regarding their early season performances.
The current record is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The Spurs are just two games behind the Warriors, who currently occupy the first seed. It’s the way they’ve achieved their record that has caused some sideways glances. Struggling at home against Orlando and Dallas while leaving it late to beat Washington and Milwaukee. The wins are there, they just haven’t been convincing.
Fortunately, that’s changed some in the last week. Ever since San Antonio's road win streak ended in Chicago, they've won 3 straight. Blowout wins vs the Suns and Nets sandwiched a close victory against Boston. They've looked more like the Spurs we're used to seeing, but the next week will tell us a lot about how the team is gelling.
vs New Orleans Pelicans, Sunday 18th December:
Of the five games from Sunday to Sunday, the first is arguably the easiest. Only it's not easy. The Pelicans come to San Antonio on Sunday night. Despite their troubles this year, and their mediocre record of 9-19, they always manage to cause the Spurs problems. Anthony Davis has averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds in his last 5 outings against San Antonio. Don't expect a high scoring affair in this one though, as both teams rank in the bottom half of the league in points per game. The Spurs have won the last four matchups, but only one the preceding five.
@ Houston Rockets, Tuesday 20th December:
Next is a tasty divisional match with the Houston Rockets. Mike D'Antoini's squad owns the league's longest winning streak at 10, and are starting to look like contenders. This will be the third meeting of the season with Houston, with the series split at 1-1. Both times the road team was the victor which stands as a good omen for the visiting Spurs. Should San Antonio continue this trend, chances are it'll come from how they manage to lock down the Rockets 3 point shooting. These are two of the more efficient sides from beyond the arc, though the Spurs are much better at defending it than their rivals. That could be the difference maker in this one.
@ Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday 22nd December:
The road trip moves to the West coast as San Antonio visits the Clippers. Having suffered an embarrassing defeat to Doc Rivers’ club back in November, the Spurs will be looking to avenge the home loss. After starting the season at 14-2, the Clips have lost five of their last 11. What concerns most about this one is how poorly San Antonio matches up against LA. Blake Griffin enjoyed himself last time out with 28 points and the usually quiet Luc Mbah a Mboute contributed 13. There just isn't a clear defensive advantage for Kawhi Leonard in this one, since he’s not big enough to guard Griffin, and too big to chase J.J. Redick around all those screens. But if they can find a way to slow the Clippers down, San Antonio could get a statement win against a team they’re likely to see come the playoffs.
@ Portland Trail Blazers, Friday 23rd December:
Portland isn’t the same exciting team they were last year but they do sit in the 8th seed. Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum are dangerous offensive weapons and can keep the Blazers in any kind of game. But that's as good as it gets for a team that’s lost 6 of their last 7 and are one of the worst defensive clubs in the league. One of their biggest weaknesses is one of the Spurs' biggest strengths; the 3PT shot. Unless Pop rests his starters (which is a possibility considering the tough schedule and the fact that it’s a SEGABABA) San Antonio stands a great chance to pick up a win against a possible first round opponent in April.
vs Chicago Bulls, Sunday 25th December:
The daunting 5 game schedule ends at home against Chicago on Christmas Day. The Bulls kept the Spurs from matching the NBA record for a road winning streak to start the season, so this offers the team a chance for revenge. They should find it easier against a team that isn't anywhere near as good away from home. The Bulls actually hold a losing road record, including a failure in Dallas against the struggling Mavericks. While they have a talented enough group on paper, Chicago's offense can be very one-dimensional. Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo aren't known for their great shooting, and will look to attack the paint any chance they get. That's why Dewayne Dedmon may see an increase in minutes for this one. This festive fixture will be the end of a compact schedule both teams, and we might see some tired legs on the holiday.