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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Wizards

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The role players stepped up, and Davis got snubbed.

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The Spurs are have begun their four-game homestand ahead of the Rodeo Road Trip, and it is vital that they take full advantage of this opportunity against four very beatable teams (Wizards, Suns, Nets and Pelicans) considering the daunting schedule this year’s RRT will present. While the Spurs have shown recent improvement on the road, it has seemingly come at the expense of winnable home games largely due to complacency.

In their last two home games, the Spurs had lost to the Hornets and a shorthanded Clippers team they had owned in their previous two match-ups. Those were just two of several home games the Spurs had no business losing (not to mention a few blown opportunities on the road), and as a result it has cost them some valuable cushion in the standings.

Enter the Wizards: another struggling East team that the Spurs should have no issue beating, even without DeMar DeRozan. However, from the outset it appeared they had come into yet another home game with that same complacency that has taken over lately, sleepwalking on their first defensive possession and triggering an immediate timeout from Gregg Popovich. From there they gradually woke up, with the offense playing strong throughout while the defense eventually caught up in the second half to actually beat a team they should beat at home.

They will need to bring that same superior attitude to the next three games before their mettle will truly get tested from there. Outside of last season, the Spurs have been known to use the Rodeo Road Trip to boost themselves up and shift things into high gear for the home stretch of the regular season. While a 4-4 outcome should be considered an accomplishment for this group considering the schedule, they’ll do themselves a lot of favors if they just take care of business in San Antonio first. Last night’s comfortable win was the first step, even if it took garbage time a little longer to arrive than it should have.

Takeaways

  • I personally loved Pop taking that timeout 16 second into the game after his players allowed a wide open lay-up the opening possession. I know he has this whole coaching thing down and knows his players way better than I, but there are times when it feels like he’s a little too content to let his players dig too deep of hole or wants them to find their own way out. That worked when he had long-established leaders in The Big 3, but this is still a new team that is coming together. Sometimes they need him to boost them up, and after losing their last two home games, Pop knew he needed to come in early and hard last night, and it worked — at least on offense. The defense came around in the second half after giving up 43 points in the second quarter. That likely required a halftime roasting from Pop that we can all be happy we weren’t a part of. The Wizards only scored 17 points in the third quarter.
  • Like always, the bench was there give the Spurs a spark when they needed it the most. Davis Bertans returned from a two-game absence to take charge with a season-high 21 points on 5-8 from three (8-11 overall) in 28 minutes. He was also a team-high +20 while on the floor. The other role players stepped up big as well, including what is becoming an expected 16-5-4 line from Derrick White, 16-4-4 from Bryn Forbes, more double-digit bench scoring from Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. With so much turnover last summer, depth was a legit concern coming into the this season but has ended up being a typical Spurs strength, so imagining a similar team next season but with Dejounte Murray back in the fold and Lonnie Walker IV likely playing an increased role makes it easy to have higher aspirations for the near future. It’s looking more and more like this rebuild-while-staying-competitive approach is going to be a success for the Spurs.
  • Speaking of Bertans, he’s the league’s leading three-point shooter at 49.2% on 187 attempts (over four per game). He wanted to participate in the 3-point contest for All-Star weekend, as did we. Unfortunately, he got snubbed because the league told him he “didn’t shoot enough threes.” Granted, he’s only 91st in the league in total three-point attempts, but their reasoning is not what I have a problem with. I have a problem with the league giving him that reason, and yet there are two players among the currently known participants (with more to come) who have shot fewer: Seth Curry (131 attempts) and Dirk Nowitzki (49 attempts on 28.6%). I get it: there are stories there that the NBA wants to exploit. They are excited to pit Seth against his more famous brother, and this is a last “hurrah” of sorts for Dirk, who may or may not retire this summer. However, why can’t league just be honest with Davis? Why not tell him the truth: that he’s not a good enough story this year and encourage him to keep up for next year? What we’ve learned is the league will lie to its players for petty reasons, and it’s all very sad and infuriating. All-Star weekend will not be getting any ratings boosts from me. (Not that I really watch it anyway, but I would have tuned in for Davis.)
  • On a funnier note, before we get to our tradition final post, I want to take this opportunity to point out (again) how much I love The Challenge: a trivia contest between Matt Bonner and Sean Elliott during every halftime in which they try to rack up points answering trivia questions. Last night’s Challenge was especially hilarious. In honor of Mills joining the 500 game club with the Spurs, Matt and Sean each wagered points before seeing the question, which was a list of all the Spurs who have played 500 games with the club except one, and they had to determine who was crossed out. My immediate thought was Sean had the advantage based on his location because all he had to do was look to the rafters. However, he couldn’t even come up with a name, while Matt got it right: Bruce Bowen. Because Sean lost 8 points and Matt gained 21 (in honor of Tim Duncan), Sean could only bury his head and wonder allowed how we will get out of this hole. I could only laugh.
  • MARCO WATCH: Another game, more Marco shenanigans. He had his usual pump-fake and leaning threes that are becoming normal, but in a weird twist perhaps his best play of the game was a actual normal play. He lulled Otto Porter Jr. to sleep in the corner before cutting to the basket for a wide open lay-up courtesy of Forbes, and soon after returned he the favor to a cutting Mills. Like Mills, one of Marco’s biggest advantages is he never stops moving, so it’s always amusing to see him use the opposite approach and get the same result — almost like when he hits a straight-up three instead of a contorted one.