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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans

Two short-handed division rivals face off as the Spurs look to avoid a third-straight loss.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever Marco Belinelli’s three-point percentage says, it’s easy to forget the odds as you watch, heart in throat, as he fades to the corner of the floor during a critical possession, initiates a multi-step wind-up before even catching the ball, then contorts his body into the letter K as he releases over a defender and collects himself somewhere beyond the baseline.

Similarly, there’s what you might glean about the Spurs from their record, efficiency ratings and performances against the spread, and then there’s the self-contained uncertainty that anchors the night-by-night viewing experience this season. It gives fans two options: go into a game with a certain detachment from what the numbers and your own Spurs-tempered logic might suggest, or subject yourself to a new trial of emotional attrition. (The aforementioned Belinelli three, of course, gave the Spurs a 120-112 lead over the Sixers earlier this week — as well as a 96% probability to win, according to ESPN — and, well, you know what happened next.)

The Spurs are in New Orleans on Saturday, set to face a Pelicans squad that’s 2-6 without Anthony Davis. The catch: they’ll also be short-handed, with DeMar DeRozan and Davis Bertans already declared out and LaMarcus Aldridge’s status up in the air after hurting his wrist in Philly. That’s reason enough to reset your expectations, if you haven’t already.

San Antonio Spurs (27-22) at New Orleans Pelicans (22-27)

January 26, 2019 | 5:00 PM CT

Listen: WOAI | Watch: FSSW

Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (torn ACL — out), DeMar DeRozan (knee — out), LaMarcus Aldridge (wrist — questionable), Davis Bertans (personal reasons — out)

Pelicans Injuries: Anthony Davis (finger — out), Nikola Mirotic (calf — out), Julius Randle (ankle — questionable)

Who shows out?

With the likelihood that DeRozan and Aldridge will both be out, it’ll be up to Rudy Gay and a limited supporting cast to step up for San Antonio. Meanwhile, the Pelicans will be missing not only Davis but also Mirotic and potentially Julius Randle, leaving much resting on the forgotten shoulders of Jahlil Okafor, who’s averaged over 18 points and 9 rebounds over his last 3 games.

Keeping an eye on how the Spurs guard the pick and roll

Against the Sixers, the Spurs experimented with a different coverage against the pick and roll, stunting out on the ball-handler and switching far more liberally than usual. The results weren’t great, as it often led to the Sixers attacking mismatches or catching the Spurs as they recovered. It’ll be interesting to see how much of that, if at all, we see this evening as they look to take the ball out of the hands of Jrue Holiday and Elfrid Payton and force other Pelicans create.

Don’t underestimate Pop with a skeleton crew

In recent years, short-handed Spurs groups have tended to perform pretty well. That could be a coincidence, or it could be that Pop’s able to coach a looser, more creative game rather than balance the short-term goal of getting the W with the big picture of building continuity and teaching good habits. Either way, it should make for a weird, but fun, evening of basketball.

Vegas Line: Pelicans by 0.5

Game Prediction: Spurs by 4

For the Pelicans fan’s perspective, please check out The Bird Writes.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.