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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers

The final road game of the 2018-2019 Spurs’ regular season takes place tonight in Cleveland, Ohio against a Cavaliers team who have dropped their last 8 games

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs, wildly inconsistent on the road the entire year, gave us another example of that inconsistency with their pummeling of the Wizards just two days after being thoroughly worked over in Denver. As mercurial as they’ve been, they still have a shot at moving up in the standings with just 2 games left to play, both against sub-.500 opponents, and even though they can get no higher than the 6th speed, that’s still more favorable than being a likely playoff tune-up for the defending champion Golden State Warriors in round one.

To finish up their road schedule for the 2018-2019 season, the Spurs travel to Cleveland to take on a Cavaliers team that, though devoid of the greatness of LeBron James following his departure to Los Angeles over the summer, came extremely close to beating the Spurs in San Antonio a week and a half ago, on Manu Ginobili Night, no less. That night, San Antonio allowed a Cavaliers team that is shooting just 44% for the year to shoot 49% from the floor on their home floor.

With hopes of avoiding Golden State in the first round still alive, the Spurs need to finish the year with a strong showing on the road before the season finale at home Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks.

San Antonio Spurs (46-34) at Cleveland Cavaliers (19-61)

April 7, 2019 | 2:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI

Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (ACL — out)

Cavaliers Injuries: Matthew Dellavedova (concussion — day to day), Kevin Love (shoulder — questionable), John Henson (wrist — out)

More than just seeding at stake

With their playoff seeding still not decided, the Spurs do not have the luxury of sitting some of their guys this year as they’ve done in year’s past. On Friday night in the nation’s capital, thanks in large part to a dominant performance on the offensive end, 13 Spurs saw playing time, with Bryn Forbes being the only starter to see more than 30 minutes.

With the regular season ending at home April 10th and the playoffs starting April 14th, the Spurs will have at least 5 days to spend at home before heading out to face their first round match-up on the road. If coach Gregg Popovich wants to get his heavy guns some rest time while still competing for playoff seeding, he is likely hoping that his crew will be able to put away bad Cavs and Dallas Mavericks teams over the next 3 days like they did against the Wizards.

Unlikely the Spurs shoot that well again?

The Spurs put on a clinic Friday night in the nation’s capital, shooting 56% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc. With 34 assists on their 51 made baskets, the Spurs used ball movement and player movement to pick apart a Wizards team that is ranked just 28th in defensive rating. Cleveland is even worse on that end of the floor, ranking dead last. San Antonio shot 53% overall and 41% from downtown in the first meeting, yet was only able to escape after Patty Mills sank a triple with 14 seconds left to give the Spurs a 4-point lead.

While it would be wise not to expect San Antonio to be as hot as they were in Friday’s win, the potential is there for them to have another big night from an efficiency standpoint if they execute close to the level they did against Washington.

How San Antonio gets DeMar DeRozan going

DeMar DeRozan has thrived in his first season in San Antonio, putting himself in some elite company with his 21-6-6-1 averages, as noted by Andy Bailey of SLC Dunk:

That’s 7 Hall of Famers and likely 4 future Hall of Famers, for those keeping track at home.

DeRozan has been a joy to watch this year, outside of a horrid month of January where he shot just 41% from the field, and has had a huge impact on the Spurs’ ability to win games. While he creates a lot of his looks on his own (he’s been assisted on just 27% of all his made 2-point field goals this year), the Spurs still have some things that they run when he doesn’t have the ball in order to get it to him. A very common one that the Spurs run is, in essence, a set of staggered screens at both elbows for DeRozan to run through before receiving the ball on the opposite side of the court. They ran it the very first possession of the game against Washington the other night:

This cut across the key is known as the Flex Cut. Here, LaMarcus Aldridge sets what is closer to a down screen than a stagger at the elbows and Jakob Poeltl actually fails to make contact with DeRozan’s defender. While DeRozan isn’t able to shed his man, he gets the ball in a great spot and on the move. Satoransky is at his mercy and DeMar attacks him immediately.

When he does bring the ball up, they like to screen with either Derrick White or Bryn Forbes’ man so DeRozan can get right into a post-up mismatch without having to give up the ball and keeping the defense on their toes. This opens the door for playmaking:

As well as scoring opportunities:

Though he doesn’t get the switch on to the shorter Trae Young like they were hoping for, DeRozan keeps the pressure on and goes right at Issac Humphries, who has only played 3 NBA games in his entire career. This aggression is required from DeRozan if San Antonio both hopes to move out of the 8th seed and have a shot in any first round series that they find themselves in.

The Toronto Raptors ran many of the same things when DeRozan played with them, something I picked up on when watching film on him after the trade went down. Pop is a master at helping make players as comfortable as possible in the Spurs’ environment, so it was no surprise to see that he implemented a lot of these actions once DeRozan came on board.

For contrast, Kawhi Leonard frequently made use of the, “Zipper,” cut to get the ball at the top of the key during his time as the main perimeter player in San Antonio, which basically involves a cut from low post area to the top of the key as opposed to the side-to-side movement that DeMar forces when they run the play in the first clip above.

Year 1 DeMar has been a treat. Maybe Chip Engelland can help him with his 3-ball this offseason?

Vegas Line: Spurs by 9 (which reads as Spurs -9 on gambling sites)

Prediction: Spurs by 12

For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Fear the Sword.

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.