The 2018-2019 season sees two Texas rivals on seemingly different paths. On the one hand you have the Spurs, fighting for playoff positioning and basically rebuilding on the fly with a young core that is seasoned with vets, a few All Star-caliber players and a few specialists. On the other, the Dallas Mavericks, losers of 5 in a row and 4-11 overall in their last 15 games, have as their centerpiece the young sensation and Rookie of the Year hopeful Luka Doncic as well as a recovering Kristaps Porzingis, acquired from the blundering New York Knicks before the trade deadline.
Doncic has put numerous players on posters this season, even hitting James Harden with his own signature stepback jumper, but after feeling a “pop” in his knee during a 94-93 loss to the Beard and his Rockets, he’s questionable for tonight’s game. If he misses, this becomes even more of a trap game for the Spurs, who have been pitiful on the road for much of the year. They’ll need to bring the same energy that lifted them over the Bucks on Sunday night for every single game the rest of the way out to ensure a spot in the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs (38-29) at Dallas Mavericks (27-39)
March 12, 2019 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW, TNT | Listen: WOAI
Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (illness — questionable)
Mavericks injuries: Luka Doncic (knee strain — questionable)
Who steps up if Doncic is out for Dallas?
Looking at the starters for Dallas the last few games, I don’t really see anyone that truly stands out aside from Doncic. No one in their starting line-up is a knockdown 3-point shooter and Doncic is easily their best playmaker. With him being out, the two guys I’d look at would be Justin Jackson and Tim Hardaway Jr. Jackson is a small forward out of North Carolina with some good size and a pretty smooth looking jump shot. With minutes to be had, he could soak some of them up. Hardaway Jr, while by no means a bastion of efficiency and dominance, is still an athletic wing that can do a bit off the dribble.
But let’s be honest, its tough to replace this:
Post-slump DeMar is here!
DeMar DeRozan was dreadful for all of January and the early part of February. After a strong start to the season, he shot just 41% in January and it seemed like he was turning the ball over left and right. Since the All Star Break, DeRozan has yet to have a game where he’s shot under 50% from the field. He’s been aggressively looking for his shot and is still doing his thing as a playmaker for the Spurs and helping them get open 3-point shots, something that has not been lost on coach Gregg Popovich, per Jeff McDonald:
“We’re not the fastest team in the world, so we’re not going to get the same number of transition threes as a lot of teams,” Popovich said. “We don’t really have people that blow by anyone. But DeMar, with his strength and size, has been able to find other people on the court, and it’s been a blessing for us.”
This was on display in the 1st quarter of the Spurs’ 121-114 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. DeRozan, isolated with Khris Middleton on him, drives baseline in the clip below and attracts the eyes of the entire Bucks defense:
The pump fake and step-thru pulls the defense in even more and DeRozan finds the #2 3-point shooter in the NBA, Davis Bertans, wide-open for a 3.
When it comes to scoring the ball, I’m loving what I’m seeing with his floater game. He typically uses it when he gets deep into the paint and after a Euro-step, but here he forces a switch on to former Spur Pau Gasol in pick and roll and just goes right at him and kisses the ball off the glass:
Here he is in transition going to the Euro-step to create space to get the floater off:
When DeRozan got to San Antonio, I was hopeful that Pop would put him in positions to still have catch and shoot opportunities, even if they weren’t from beyond the arc. He gets this look because Middleton is playing way off to help contest the LaMarcus Aldridge post-up, who finds DeRozan and then he proceeds to knock it down:
DeRozan has also been much more active defensively. He’s proven quite adept at playing the passing lanes and coming up with interceptions like this one early in the 3rd quarter against Milwaukee:
With less than 20 games to go and a higher seed still in play, the Spurs will need this DeRozan if they want both a shot at a higher seed and if they want to make any sort of noise in the postseason, even if it’s just a hard out.
Run ‘em off the line
While the Mavericks take and make of 3s (7th in makes, 5th in attempts), they are 26th in actual percentage at around 35%. A good basketball team shouldn’t be willing to concede any wide open shot to a player in most situations, and this is also true of the Spurs. They get caught with their hands down and flat-footed at times, with teams shooting 36% from 3 against them, the 6th worst mark in the league. They did a very good job on Sunday against another high-volume shooting team in Milwaukee and they’ll need to do it again tonight.
Prediction: Spurs by 7
For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Mavs Moneyball.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this afternoon for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.