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What We Learned from the Spurs loss the Heat

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DeMar DeRozan’s record-setting night wasn’t enough to push San Antonio past Miami

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs matchup with the Miami Heat on Wednesday night was eerily similar to their contest against the Raptors a few days ago. They fell behind early, clawed back into striking distance, and retook the lead in the second half.

Unfortunately, this time their defensive miscues cost them the game, and their streaky shooting set in at the worst possible moment. While they lost in a relatively frustrating fashion, it was refreshing to see the good guys never lost their competitive spirit.

The South Beach ballers got the best of San Antonio in this one, but the Spurs will have a chance to even the regular-season series at the AT&T Center in three days.

Takeaways:

  • DeMar DeRozan has been on an absolute tear over his last 12 contests. The four-time All-Star has averaged 27.3 points per game, won Western Conference Player of the Week, and matched Michael Jordan’s NBA record 12 straight games of 20 points on 50% shooting by a guard. Despite this remarkably efficient stretch from DeRozan, the Spurs are merely 6-6 since his offensive fireworks began. Although DeMar is on one of the greatest hot streaks the league has ever seen, it has become glaringly apparent he can’t carry San Antonio on his own. He tallied 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists while committing just 2 turnovers, but his efforts weren’t enough to overcome Miami. The eleven-year pro drained 85.7% of his looks on Wednesday night but found little help from his teammates. Aside from Patty Mills, who put forth a solid performance, the rest of the roster shot a frigid 19-of-60 (31.7%) from the field. That kind of accuracy from your role players isn’t going to win many games, and DeRozan is going to need more help if the Silver and Black want to turn this thing around.
  • Lonnie Walker IV made his routine appearance off the bench in the closing moments of the first quarter and remained on the court until midway through the second period. He then returned to the sideline and never touched the floor again. It wasn’t his best outing to date, but young players are going to make mistakes, especially ones as explosive as he is. Keeping a tight leash on Lonnie feels counterproductive to both team success and his individual development. Walker owns a better field goal percentage than Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes, and he possesses freakish tools that allow him to be a pest on defense in a way those two just aren’t capable of. The former Miami Hurricane has played fewer minutes in each of his last 5 games, and it’s beginning to look like he’s going to have to re-earn his role. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he sorts things out sooner than later.
  • Now I knew the Spurs were running an old-school offense under the guidance of head coach Gregg Popovich, but this statistic by Tom Haberstroh took me by surprise. San Antonio is on pace to attempt more than 30 three-pointers per game in a month for the FIRST time in franchise history. If they can maintain their rate of 33.2 three-point attempts for the rest of January, they will also become the LAST team in the NBA to average more than 30 three-point attempts for an entire month. This recent stylistic transition can be traced back to LaMarcus Aldridge expanding his range beyond the arc sometime in mid December. Though his points per game are down compared to years past, the All-Star big man has jacked up enough threes to qualify for the league leaderboard in three-point percentage. Though he went only 2-of-6 from long distance on Wednesday, the threat of his newfound marksmanship has opened up the floor for the Spurs. More spacing has brought a better functioning offense, and that will only help the good guys in their pursuit of a turnaround in the second half of the season.
  • I touched on defense a bit earlier, but I’d like to expand on it in my final observation. Belinelli, Mills, and Forbes are without a doubt San Antonio’s three worst defenders. According to NBA Math, the trio rank 440th, 473rd, and 479th in Defensive Points Saved out of the 487 players to suit up in the association this season. Additionally, they have soaked up 25.6% of all minutes played by the Spurs this season. This wouldn’t be an issue if the Silver and Black had a winning record, but they’re 17-22 sitting outside of the playoff picture. I’m not blaming the disappointing start to this season on any individual player, but when those three aren’t producing points, they’re conceding them to the opposition at an alarming clip. Mills always gives 110% on every defensive possession, so his deficiencies are easier to forgive. As for Forbes and Belinelli, it’s difficult to understand why Pop turns to them so often when their combined shooting splits of 39-36-82 fail to mask their defensive shortcomings. The duo came together to shoot 40% from downtown last year, and if they manage to bring those percentages up, it would make their sizable roles more justifiable. For now, all we can do is hope our three-point specialist progress to the mean.