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Spurs can’t get a bucket or a win against the Pelicans

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San Antonio drops to 3-5 on the road

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It is uncommon for a Spurs squad to be lacking in experience, but here we are. What does a team do when two of its top players are out and opponents are beginning to figure out how to lock the offense up? That is a question still missing an answer.

Currently, the Spurs rely on role players to make the most of what LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol can create for them. The big men stretch defenses past comfort levels, resulting in driving lanes and outside shots in rhythm. But when Aldridge is in foul trouble—or as was the case Wednesday night, Aldridgege and Gasol—the offense devolves into so-so looks from the outside, a shortage of dribble penetration, and ugly turnovers.

After a 17-2 run to start the game put the Spurs firmly in the driver’s seat, things slowly began to unravel, beginning with DeMarcus Cousins realizing that the Spurs are thin upfront. The 29-19 lead at the end of the first quarter felt a little bit like fool’s gold, and the Pelicans had already established themselves as the more aggressive team. Turnovers and missed jumpers aside, it felt from early on like the Pelicans did not fear the Spurs.

Once Pop turned to a preventative defense by benching Gasol and Aldridge each with two fouls, the Pelicans closed the half on an 11-2 run in the final 2:30, and that was kind of the ball game. Though the Spurs had a great chance to make it a game to start the second half, they took too long to get out of settling for jumpers that were not falling. Again: an experienced basketball team may have found a way to grind their way back into this game, but that didn’t happen.

As the season continues, the Spurs will need to find their offensive footing if they’re going to maintain their top-four playoff spot. When facing a deficit, the Spurs have a bad habit of moving away from their strengths on offense, such as offensive rebounding and cutting, and instead seem to settle for pullup twos and threes that are just difficult shots. Even though the team makes a good amount of those shots, the next time they find themselves in a hole, it would be nice to see guys even ignore the extra pass at times, and generate some looks much closer to the hoop.

This was not a fun game to watch, but the Pelicans give the Spurs fits every year. Hopefully this is just another learning experience for a team searching for an identity in times of adversity.

Now on to the positives.

It is unrealistic to expect Aldridge and Gasol to outplay Cousins and Davis, but they are perhaps better suited to manage the Pelicans’ frontcourt than almost any other team in the league. Gasol’s length really seems to bother Cousins down low, and his shooting and ability to drive to the hoop from the 3-point line were effective tonight.

On offense, none of the role players on the Pelicans should be good enough to beat the Spurs in a playoff series. Darius Miller made open 3s and contested ones tonight, but he is possibly the only guy on the roster capable of doing so, and at least one open look was the result of a botched Davis Bertans trap of Tony Allen along the baseline that should never happen.

Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray looked good against the undersized perimeter players on the Pelicans, and their overall activity completely changes the ceiling of the Spurs. They generate steals, tipped passes, offensive boards, and blocks with their length, which really junk up the game in the Spurs’ favor.

Some other notes:

-DJ’s ceiling on both ends of the floor often has me wishing he was getting more time on the court, although I understand if you disagree because of his lack of shooting and erratic play. In games like tonight, his athleticism and unpredictability felt very needed.

-Patty started probing the defense and keeping his dribble alive in the third quarter and he immediately found Kyle Anderson for a layup because of it. He doesn’t have the tools to finish in the paint over big men, but I like this look for him, especially when his shot is not falling.

-Manu took a charge when DeMarcus Cousins was barreling up the floor and we may need to start fining him for doing that in games this early in the season.

-at the 3:47 mark of the first quarter, the Spurs swung the ball around the arc for an open Rudy Gay 3 using bounce passes. It was incredible.

-Do not let the weirdness and greatness of the Anthony Davis--Demarcus Cousins frontcourt pass you by. They can do everything on the court.

-Pau Gasol had two dribble-drives from the 3-point line this game that resulted in buckets. Father Time is undefeated, but we should appreciate Pau’s resistance a little more.