You’d be hard pressed to find two more embarrassing losses than the Spurs fourth-quarter meltdowns against the Atlanta Hawks. The rotations were confusing, the effort was lackluster, and San Antonio made the second-worst team in the NBA look like a playoff contender.
Luckily, the good guys won’t be facing Trae Young and crew again this season as long as both clubs don’t meet in the NBA Finals. And considering they’re both on track towards the lottery, I’d say the chances of that are slim to none.
Keeping that in mind, the Silver and Black aren’t done squaring off with Eastern Conference adversaries. The Miami Heat are in Alamo City for a rematch of Wednesday night’s battle, and San Antonio could use some momentum before heading into the second leg of a back-to-back.
San Antonio Spurs (17-23) versus Miami Heat (29-12)
January 19, 2020 | 2:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Rudy Gay (Illness - Doubtful), Dejounte Murray (Illness - Questionable)
Heat Injuries: Kyle Alexander (Knee - Day-to-Day), Tyler Herro (Knee - Day-to-Day), Justise Winslow (Back - Out)
Finishing What They Started
The Spurs are 1-2 in their past three contests, but even their lone victory versus the Raptors came with a heavy helping of late-game dramatics. Despite valiantly rallying to erase a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit, they nearly blew a nine-point lead of their own down the stretch.
San Antonio hasn’t been particularly skilled at finishing close matchups this season, and they have lost a total of 10 games in which they led in the fourth quarter. So when crunch time arrives, it feels like fans are constantly on the edge of their seats.
LaMarcus Aldridge missed consecutive free throws against Toronto, Derrick White turned the ball over on an important possession versus Miami, and Dejounte Murray failed to cover the corner three on Atlanta’s go-ahead bucket. One mistake by a single player hasn’t cost the team a win, but an accumulation of slip-ups in the final moments certainly has, and the execution must improve.
Winning the Three-Point Battle
The Silver and Black have been utilizing the three-pointer more than ever before, and it’s helped them space the floor and expand the offense. Though they’ve benefited from the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge taking and making triples, San Antonio has been the least accurate squad from deep (26.6%) since they defeated the Raptors on the road last Sunday.
Not only are they struggling to covert open looks, but their opponents are red-hot from long distance, knocking down threes at the third-best rate over the previously mentioned stretch. That contrariety has culminated in the Spurs being outscored beyond the arc by a margin of 159 points to 75.
The good guys have already proven they can run a modern NBA offense, but the results won’t show unless their three-point specialists knock down their shots. While Patty Mills has done his part, Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli are merely 7-of-29 from outside, and Pop will require more from his vets if they hope to match the firepower of Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson.
Thwarting the Three-Headed Monster
Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kendrick Nunn may not be the first trio that comes to mind when you think of the best big threes in the league, but they’re an astonishingly dangerous trifecta. They account for nearly 40% of Miami’s rebounds, 50% of their points, and 60% of their assists.
Each player can hurt you in a variety of ways, and even if you manage to shut down two-thirds of the triad, one of them is bound to make you pay. San Antonio held Butler and Adebayo to 24 points on 38% from the field the last go-round, yet Nunn still torched them for 33 points on 72% shooting.
Keeping all three of the Heat’s leading-scorers bottled up isn’t a realistic goal, but the Spurs have the personnel to make life difficult for at least one of their stars. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and there’s no reason we should see anyone else tasked with guarding Kendrick Nunn.
Unleashing Lonnie Walker IV
I’m certain you’ve all grown tired of my faithful promotion of Lonnie Walker IV, and I apologize for beating a dead horse, but the second-year guard should be a major part of San Antonio’s present and future. He provides the sort of three-level scoring and defensive versatility that most of this roster is lacking.
The former Miami Hurricane was benched early in the season for poor effort, fought his way back into the rotation, and watched his minutes decrease in each of the last five games before the Atlanta loss. Although he scored 9 points in 16 minutes, Lonnie found himself sidelined for the remainder of the contest following a defensive miscue.
The Silver and Black went on to lose that game, and while I refuse to chalk that up to the benching of their explosive wing, he undoubtedly could have helped when a stop or two was necessary. Who knows, maybe he would have made another mistake, but the best way to learn is firsthand experience.
Gregg Popovich has employed a tight leash when it comes to Lonnie, and it may be time to let him sink or swim. Sure, he plays a little out of control on occasion, but the 21-year-old always seems to spark something special when he’s on the court.
For the Heat fans’ perspective, visit Hot Hot Hoops.
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.