After a horrible November for the 2nd year in a row, the Spurs finished out the 2010s looking a bit more like the team that was expected by many at the beginning of the season. They went 7-5 in December and, for the most part handled their business, winning most of the games they were supposed to win (looking at you, Cleveland loss!), stayed competitive against a much-improved Mavericks team in Dallas, and were even able to come away with an unthinkable double OT victory against the rival Rockets.
While December was heavy on home games and littered with a few lesser teams, January is a completely different animal. The Spurs will be on the road 8 out of the 15 games they’ll play this month, including a 4-game road trip that features visits to 3 of the Eastern Conference’s better teams.
In all, the Spurs will play 9 games against teams that are currently in the playoff picture and expected to stay there. They get their first test tonight against an Oklahoma City team that has been the biggest surprise of the season out West, winners of 7 of their last 10 and sitting in the 7th seed at 18-15 on the year. These two teams met back in November, a 121-112 Spurs’ win in San Antonio led by 39 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and excellent shooting contributions from the team as a whole.
Oklahoma City Thunder (18-15) vs. San Antonio Spurs (14-18)
January 2, 2020 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Thunder Injuries: Andre Roberson (knee — OUT)
What to watch for
- No one expected much from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first year of what looked to be a full-on rebuild, and yet here they are at 18-15 and in the playoff race. As impressive as the start to the post Russell Westbrook era has been, the numbers don’t really jump out when observing them. They’re 29th in the league in 3-point shots made, with only San Antonio themselves below them, and when they do take them, they’re hitting them at just a 34% clip, the 24th mark in the league. While they aren’t an elite defensive team overall, they do certain things at an elite level, including limiting opponents’ looks from 3 and how often they are able to get to the free throw line. Ball movement and a willingness to play for the score rather than the whistle will be key against such a disciplined ball club.
- Out on the perimeter, the Spurs will need to do what they can to limit the damage that guys like Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are capable of inflicting on a team. Schroder is having a phenomenal year leading their bench units, while Gallinari, their deadliest 3-point shooter (39%), is enjoying his healthiest season in what feels like his entire career. Add those guys to a resurgent Paul and the continued growth of 2nd-year guard Gilgeous-Alexander, and you have a sneaky good offensive perimeter player rotation that will require constant attention from the Spurs’ wing defenders. Those 4 players accounted for 70% of the Thunder’s offense during that November game, shooting on mostly excellent percentages. Manning up and forcing them into tough shots will be huge tonight in limiting them.
- Lonnie Walker IV has gotten the nod over Marco Belinelli the last two games as the first sub for DeMar DeRozan off the bench. Walker’s energy and athleticism is a boon to this team, especially on the defensive end, but he has dealt with foul trouble at times. In the 27 combined minutes he’s received during the last two games, he has committed 7 fouls. He committed 3 fouls in the first half of Tuesday’s game alone against Golden State and committed his 4th almost immediately after checking into the game in the 3rd quarter. That last foul caused Gregg Popovich to pull the leash, effectively ending Lonnie’s night. In a season where he has had to earn every single minute, Walker must clean up this aspect of his game if he wants to continue to gain trust from Pop.
Vegas line: Spurs by 2
For the Thunder fan’s perspective, please visit Welcome to Loud City.
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.