It hasn’t been easy sledding for the Spurs to kick-off the season. Through 2 games, they’ve needed a 4th quarter rally against the Knicks and some late-game heroics from DeMar DeRozan to halt the Wizards in their tracks. Both of those teams are expected to compete for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
Wins are wins, though, and the Spurs are still sitting at 2-0 and showed signs of improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. They’ll need to take another step forward in this process when they take on one of last year’s Western Conference Finalist teams, the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland dispatched the same Denver Nuggets team that the Spurs fell to in the first round last spring, largely due to the two-headed scoring monster that is the duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, both of whom can score points in a hurry from virtually anywhere on the court.
Portland Trailblazers (2-1) vs San Antonio Spurs (2-0)
October 28, 2019 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW, | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Blazers Injuries: Pau Gasol (foot — OUT), Jusuf Nurkic (leg — OUT), Zach Collins (MRI shoulder - OUT)
Remember, Dejounte Murray is on a minutes-restriction
I run social media for PtR, and I’ve noticed some fans wondering why Dejounte Murray was on the bench during most of crunch time of Saturday’s win against Washington. I was confused myself until I was reminded by Tom Orsborne of the San Antonio Express-News that Murray, though cleared for full basketball activity by the medical staff, is still on a minutes-restriction to start the season:
Dejounte said he was "upset" he had to be taken out after reaching the minute restriction. But he also said he's not about to lobby the medical staff to remove it: "No, no, no. I trust them. They have been doing this a long time. They know what they are doing." #Spurs— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) October 27, 2019
Though admitting to being frustrated about the restriction, he understands that the training staff just has his health on their minds, while acknowledging that he is continuing to do rehab work for his repaired knee:
Although he said his surgically repaired knee "feels good," Dejounte was quick to add that, "Just because I got healthy to play, we are still working like we are still rehabbing. Got to stay on top of it." #Spurs— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) October 27, 2019
Murray has flashed his potential in very limited minutes to start the season. While it’s frustrating not to see him playing some more right now, it’s important to remember that it’s for his benefit. When the restriction is lifted and he’s fully rehabbed and unleashed, it’s going to have been worth it.
What to Watch for
- Can the Spurs bring a full team effort on defense? — It will take the entire house to do what they can to limit the damage that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can wreck on a team. Both are good shooters, have a quick first step that makes them so good at getting to the basket, and are willing passers and capable off-ball players. When your lead guard is willing to give the ball up and make cuts like this, good things will happen for your offense:
Scorers like this require attention whenever they’re out on the court. This will be the first of week-long stretch of offensive tests that will show San Antonio’s defensive mettle.
- Will they continue to keep turnovers down? — After a sloppy Opening Night in which they committed 21 turnovers, the Spurs were able to clean themselves up against Washington with a total of 9 giveaways, with just 3 being live ball turnovers (compared to 16 during Opening Night). The less open looks Lillard and McCollum get in transition to aid their rhythm, the easier job the Spurs’ defense will have in attempting to limit them in other situations.
- Will Lonnie Walker sneak in a few more minutes? — After failing to register a single minute against the Knicks, Gregg Popovich snuck sophomore guard Lonnie Walker IV in for about 5 minutes in relief of a struggling Marco Belinelli. He responded by scoring a bucket and giving up an and-1 to a Wizards player. Walker has a long way to go before he’s a key cog in this Spurs rotation, but there is a path to more minutes if he can play better than Belinelli has to start the season.
“The Bruce Bowens of the world”
In an interview with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian that I was made aware of by sister site Blazer’s Edge, Blazer’s forward Kent Bazemore detailed his approach on the defensive end of the court, stating that he wanted to be known as a defensive stopper along the lines of, “the Tony Allens . . . the P.J. Tuckers . . . the Bruce Bowens.” It’s always good to see the new generation of NBA players talk about some of the lesser-known greats to play this game and it’s even better when a young guy talks about a former Spur in such a positive light.
Bowen’s #12 is one of just 9 (soon to be 10) numbers to be retired by San Antonio.
Vegas Line: Spurs by 4.5
Prediction: Spurs by 2
For the Blazer’s perspective, please visit Blazer’s Edge.
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 if you don’t have a radio around.