Coming off of a mirror dimension loss against the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in the position of squaring off against a feisty Nets squad known for their execution and workmanship to the extent of sometimes being referred to as “Spurs East.”
And while that’s quite the compliment, it’s probably not the ideal scenario for a Spurs team that has spent the better part of the last several weeks living in an extended funk of inconsistency.
The Nets, for all their current mediocrity (they sit just above the middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive rating) are a team that are relatively settled in their identity. Even in the absence of their most formidable scoring threat, Kyrie Irving, they have a knack for scrapping their way to wins regardless of the quality of opponent (sporting wins over the Rockets, Nuggets, 76ers, and Celtics), while rarely falling to teams beneath them (narrow losses to the Hornets, Pistons, and Grizzles stand out as the only obvious blemishes). It’s not hard to see how they’ve earned that nickname, even in the absence of their recovering wunderkind Kevin Durant.
The Spurs, on the other hand, have yet to find their stride on a nightly (or even quarterly) basis, in spite of sporting comparable (and perhaps even superior) health and talent. It is, most surprisingly, San Antonio’s execution that is responsible for their unfortunate record, leaving us with the confounding spectacle of the most decidedly un-Spursy team in recent memory.
In the wake of that furious Houston comeback of a couple night ago, this is a game that will absolutely test San Antonio’s mettle. Fail to execute for all four quarters, and this game will almost certainly end badly. This is not a squad against which the silver and black will be able to sit back and watch self destruct. In spite of a relative lack of firepower, this is a Brooklyn team that refuses to be blown out, having lost a grand total of three games on the season by fifteen points or more.
On the other hand, this is also a team that very rarely wins games by a margin of ten points or more, (only four times thus far) so a fully functioning Spurs offense supplemented by passable defense should be able to put just enough distance between them to pull this one out.
Unfortunately, the Spurs offense that once ranked in the top five of the league has gone topsy-turvy in the last several weeks, and a slowly improving defense (now 22nd in the league as opposed to 27th) has not yet reached a point that it is able to make up for an offense that has plummeted to 13th in points scored and 18th in offensive rating.
Brooklyn Nets (15-12) vs. San Antonio Spurs (10-16)
December 19, 2019: 7:30 PM CT
Watch: KMYS-CW35| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Nets Injuries: Kyrie Irving (Out), Kevin Durant (Out), Nicolas Claxton (Hamstring - Out), David Nwaba (Ankle - Out)
What to watch for:
- Lineup Changes — We’re twenty-six games into the season, and it’s still hard to know exactly how the lineups are going to shake out. Will Trey Lyles get the start again? Will Jakob Poeltl and Lonnie Walker IV play ten minutes, or twenty-five? Which guard will get the start: Dejounte Murray or Derrick White? Does DeMarre Carroll actually exist, or is he the awkward leftover husk of a fever dream that you’ve all been humoring me about over the last two months? It’s anyone’s guess as the ongoing game of lineup roulette continues. Let’s just hope that Pop doesn’t throw Marco Belinelli in for twenty-plus minutes just to make it Russian.
- Will the Spurs start hitting open threes? — San Antonio is sporting their worst shooting percentages from three in over a decade and a half (34.9%, though that is a slight improvement), and one of the big reasons for that has been a chronic inability to convert the open three. Call it regression, call it bad luck, call it karma, call it whatever you like, but it’s clear that it’s something that is going to have to change in order for the offense to keep pace with their peers.
- Dejounte Murray — Honestly, there are a ton of reasons to keep an eye on this kid, and most of them are good. But one good thing in particular has been his recent hot streak on both ends of the court. He’s been an absolute menace on defense, and though his shooting is still a bit erratic, he’s starting to find his spots rather than driving wildly at every opportunity. The change from bull in a china shop has been a good one. Let’s see if it sticks.
- How will DeMar DeRozan react to being benched? — For me, this one will be of particular interest. Part of the sell with DeRozan is his ability to be a professional, and in spite of Rudy Gay’s defense of his behavior, he looked anything but pleased to be riding the pine at the end of the Houston game. I think most of us would agree that this is a reasonable way to feel, but perhaps not to so boldly display it. It certainly wasn’t a good look, as Spurs Twitter has been quick to (somewhat rightly) point out. I don’t think it’s crazy to expect some kind of scoring outburst from DeMar after that. Hopefully it’ll come within the flow of the offense.
Honestly, it’s hard to know what to expect from this contest. But if there’s anything I can be sure of, it’s that this will not be a game that harkens back to the match-ups of yore. If it ends up becoming a low-scoring affair, it will most likely be due to offensive ineptitude rather than defensive exceptionalism. But in either case, you can probably expect this one to be close. If so, let’s hope it ends up being a close one in favor of the good guys. I think we could all use this one.
For the Nets fan’s perspective, you can visit NetsDaily.
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.