Wednesday night was not the way you want to start the final 3 game road trip of the season. Not with playoff seeding still undecided and certainly not against a team that many fans believe you match-up well with.
From the opening tip of Wednesday’s 113-85 smackdown in Denver, everything went wrong for the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich was thrown out just 63 seconds into the game (an NBA record!), the defense was completely MIA, allowing the Nuggets (who were on a back to back themselves) to score at will, and the Spurs couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean.
Sitting in the 8th seed out West with just 3 games left to play, the Spurs can ill-afford to lose any of them, for if they should, another match-up with the Golden State Warriors awaits them. Though all 3 of the games come against teams that are tanking, it’s been the lesser teams that have given San Antonio trouble most of the year. Match-ups against a bad Wizards and Cavaliers team on the road that should be gimmes just aren’t this season.
If they really want to try to avoid Golden State in the first round, the Spurs need to come out with energy from the jump. Hopefully that starts tonight in the nation’s capital against a Wizard’s team with a tumultuous present and an uncertain future.
San Antonio Spurs (45-34) at Washington Wizards (32-47)
April 5, 2019 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: CW35 | Listen: WOAI
Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (ACL — out)
Wizards Injuries: John Wall (achilles — out), Trevor Ariza (groin — out), Jabari Parker (knee — out), Dwight Howard (back — out),
Be gone, Slow Starts!
I get it. The NBA season is a long one. The rush of starting a season slowly wears off by the time December and January come around, the All Star break lets guys get some of that energy back, and then there’s a slow down towards the end of March for a lot of teams. It’s tough to bring the energy and focus for all 82 games of a season.
After an 8-2 start to March that effectively saved their season, the Spurs have sputtered to a 3-3 record, with losses against East bottom-feeders Miami and Charlotte and out-of-the-playoffs Sacramento being part of those 5 losses. They’ve come out of the gates slow in most of them, culminating in the butt-kicking and Pop-ejection on Wednesday night in Denver.
There should be an excitement about the playoffs being so near, but too often the team looks disinterested, especially on the defensive end where its not uncommon to see late rotations and players with hands at their sides.
It’s tough to break habits this late into the season, but the Spurs have to start playing like this is playoff basketball and not a game in mid-January.
Should Lonnie get more time?
Pop typically doesn’t put rookies into major roles early on in their career, with some very special exceptions and that’s been the case with Lonnie Walker IV. Of course, surgery in training camp that kept him out for a month never really gave him the run he needed with the team, but he’s posted some very good numbers in Austin most of the year playing with the Austin Spurs.
Walker appeared to be a bright spot in Wednesday’s loss, scoring 16 points and displaying some of the things that have been on display in Austin most of the year, including his jaw-dropping athleticism:
Not too many guys on this team are capable of grabbing a rebound, pushing the ball up in transition, and scoring as quickly as Walker does here. With more reps against NBA-competition (and a clean bill of health), Walker could end up being a legit two-way wing in the mold of guys like Jimmy Butler and Paul George.
While he sometimes gets lost defensively, there’s no doubt that he has all the tools that should help him succeed at this level, including length and quickness. Pop has shown a willingness to run line-ups that feature both Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills in the backcourt, and while those guys are better shooters than Walker, their value is entirely reliant on them making shots. It would be good to see Lonnie in there getting his feet wet more often than he has and show what he can do.
There is a ceiling on what this team can be without what I presume to be their core trio for the future (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Walker) playing big minutes and contributing. That ceiling is starting to look like a first round exit at the hands of the Warriors.
All the more reason to let this guy get some burn, right?
.@lonniewalker_4 with the UPs!— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) April 4, 2019
He may have gotten fouled but let's appreciate the air and the hair! #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/A4Z6etIhwc
Welcome to San Antonio, Donates Motiejunas!
After Visa issues kept him from coming over, big man Donates Motiejunas has finally signed his contract and is ready to get to the work with the Spurs as the season closes. It is unsure if he will be available for the game tonight, but it’s good that he’s finally stateside. San Antonio has lacked a true back-up big for Jakob Poeltl since the release of Pau Gasol earlier this year and even though there’s not much season left, it will be good having a 7 foot insurance policy should the need arise.
The Wizards have been a mess all season long. John Wall (who just signed an extremely lucrative supermax contract extension) is out with a torn Achilles. For a guard that has long relied on speed to make up for a shaky jump shot, the future doesn’t look bright. Otto Porter Washington has a real stud in their back court with Bradley Beal, who is just 25 years old and has had a career year despite of what’s around him. Thomas Bryant looks like he may be a viable center for the future and Tomas Satoransky had a game when the Wizards played in San Antonio at the end of January.
Ranked 27th in defensive rating, the Spurs should be able to get what they want against this Wizards team. Whether or not they’ll be able to slow down their offense is another story, a point that would have to stand even if the Wizards weren’t 13th in offensive rating. Hopefully the day of travel has them a bit more rested and able to bring a great effort on that end.
Vegas Line: Spurs by 6
Prediction: Spurs by 6
For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Bullets Forever.
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.