Don’t look now, but your San Antonio Spurs are surging in the right direction after back-to-back triumphs over the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. First came a resounding defeat of the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, then down went the 25-10 Boston Celtics.
The Silver and Black are 6-4 in their last 10 games and own the third-best point differential (+67) since December 19th. They also sit atop the field goal, three-point, and free-throw percentage leaderboard over that span, which might explain how they’ve turned their fortunes around in recent weeks.
Next up for the good guys is a date with the ninth-place Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum on Friday night. While San Antonio blew out their divisional foe in the last meeting, Memphis is on a three-game winning streak that began with a 26 point throttling of the Los Angeles Clippers, and they’re not to be overlooked.
This matchup may not seem important in the grand scheme of an 82 game season, but the Grizz are one win away from knocking the Spurs out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. And though I realize it’s a bit early to be thinking ahead to the postseason, Pop and crew are going to need every victory they can get if they want to reach a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance in 2020.
San Antonio Spurs (16-20) versus Memphis Grizzlies (16-22)
January 10, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Grizzlies Injuries: Yuta Watanabe (Eye - DTD), Andre Iguodala (Personal - NWT)
Capitalize on Turnovers
Memphis is home to one of the most entertaining and productive offenses in the NBA. The Grizzlies are 10th in points per game, 6th in field goal percentage, and 1st in total assists, yet they have a fatal flaw waiting to be exposed.
As you saw above, Bluff City does many things well when it comes to orchestrating their attack, but taking care of the rock isn’t one of them. The young Grizzlies operate at the third-highest pace in the league, and one side effect of their blazing ball movement has been their 15.7 turnovers per game (7th), a negative stat the Spurs should look to take advantage of.
This rendition of grit and grind has lost a lot of the physicality that defined their style of play, though they’ve replaced old trademarks with fresh faces of the future. Second overall pick Ja Morant has dazzled crowds with his creative passing but is also responsible for over 20% of his team’s turnovers.
LaMarcus Aldridge and the Impact of the Three-Ball
Believe it or not, LaMarcus Aldridge has transformed himself into one of the premier floor-spacing big men in the NBA over his last 8 appearances. The fourteen-year pro leads the NBA in three-point percentage (60%) since December 23rd, and the rest of the roster has thrived with the arrival of his improved long-distance shooting.
Perhaps no one has felt the impact of Aldridge’s newfound marksmanship than fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan. The midrange specialist has always been a potent scorer, but with more room to explore, his 26.4 points per game on 64.1% from the field has taken the definition of efficiency to new heights.
The Spurs are running an offensive clinic with LMA willingly firing away from beyond the arc, and San Antonio has snuck into the top ten teams in points per game on the season. Memphis isn’t a particularly good defensive squad, so points shouldn’t be hard to come by if LA continues to knock down the three-ball.
Leaning on the Young Core
The New Year has brought new life to the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, they’re only 2-2 since January 1st rolled around, but they’ve been competitive against the playoff-caliber competition in losses, and dominant in wins versus a couple of title contenders.
Dejounte Murray leaves it for LaMarcus Aldridge pic.twitter.com/FDmqUXYRrz— Spurs Nation (@SpursNationCP) January 7, 2020
Part of their success is due to the contributions of their talented second, third, and fourth-year players. Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have provided relentless perimeter defense and playmaking, Jakob Poeltl has added underrated rim protection and court vision, and Lonnie Walker IV has steadily come into his own as a legitimate three-level scorer.
The quartet of cornerstones has accounted for roughly a third of the Spurs’ points in 2020, but it’s easy to envision them taking the reigns of the franchise in a season or two. PATFO have silently established a promising core in San Antonio, and the good guys will likely lean on their young athletes to keep up with Grizzlies’ explosive collection of cubs.