Well, it only took me four tries, but I finally nailed a 10 game prediction for the first time this season. I said the Spurs would go 5-5 from December 28th to January 17th, and San Antonio delivered, though not quite in the way anyone probably expected.
The Silver and Black took down Eastern Conference powerhouses like Milwaukee, Boston, and Miami, yet fell to the middling Thunder, Grizzlies, and lottery-locked Hawks. Performances have largely mirrored their level of competition, and the struggles of closing tight contests remain a persistent problem.
Offensively, the Spurs began to find a rhythm, sporting the sixth-best scoring offense (117.5 PPG) over this period and posting top ten shooting percentages in every category. Defensively, San Antonio made some headway, but giving up 114.7 points per game isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
One area they showed marked improvement was floor spacing, and fans can thank LaMarcus Aldridge and his 11th place three-point percentage (43.2%) for that. Fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan also enjoyed a historic ten-game renaissance, averaging almost 28-6-6 while maintaining 63-43-87 shooting splits on his way to winning Western Conference Player of the Week.
Despite making encouraging steps in the right direction, the good guys still find themselves on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture. Sitting less than a game away from retaking the eighth seed, San Antonio has time on their side, though a brutal Rodeo Road Trip awaits them on the second leg of this upcoming stretch.
Keeping that in mind, where might the Spurs be as we prepare to pass the invariably intriguing NBA trade deadline?
Jan 22: San Antonio Spurs @ New Orleans Pelicans
ESPN added this game to its national broadcast, and it’s not because the Spurs or Pelican have begun turning things around recently. Rather, it has to do with the simple fact rookie sensation Zion Williamson is anticipated to make his NBA debut on Wednesday.
The 2019 first overall pick joins Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and a surging New Orleans team who are winners of 10 of their last 14 matchups. Oh, and the high-flying forward will also have the pleasure of suiting up in front of a rowdy Smoothie King Center crowd.
San Antonio has rolled out more than a few questionable defensive lineups, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Bryn Forbes man-to-man with Zion at some point. Alvin Gentry will have plenty of mismatches to exploit, so let’s hope Gregg Popovich makes the necessary adjustments.
Jan 24: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix took the Silver and Black to the brink of defeat in the first two meetings this season, and hopefully, the third time isn’t the charm for the Suns. Though the Spurs blew double-digit leads in each game, it’s easy to envision a blowout had they kept focus and taken care of business.
Devin Booker is a walking bucket, and there’s not a whole lot you can do when a guy drains shots with a hand in his face. Ricky Rubio, Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr. are solid complementary players, but consistent production is rare outside of their core four.
If San Antonio can balloon an early lead, fans might get an opportunity to see what Keldon Johnson and Chimezie Metu can do with extended minutes. If not, we may be in for another serving of late-game dramatics.
Jan 26: San Antonio Spurs vs. Toronto Raptors
The Spurs baffled Toronto with an airtight zone defense in a come-from-behind road victory a week ago, and they’ll have a chance to prove their win wasn’t a fluke. The circumstances will be flipped as San Antonio plays host, but the Raptors are equally dangerous home or away.
Although the reigning champs were shorthanded in round one, that won’t be the case for this River Walk rematch. Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet should be fully healthy, and that spells trouble the Silver and Black.
Jan 27: San Antonio Spurs @ Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are on pace to improve their record by 7 wins this season, which isn’t saying much considering they won 22 games in all of 2018-2019. That being said, a marginally worse Chicago team erased a 21 point San Antonio lead and stole a victory at the AT&T Center just a year ago.
Overlooking an inferior opponent has cost the Spurs mightily this season, and it would be unwise to dismiss Jim Boylen and crew regardless of how poorly they’ve played. Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. are projected to miss this matchup due to injury rehab, but Zach LaVine has singlehandedly added a few games to the win column.
The sixth-year shooting guard can get hot in a hurry, and nearly averages 30 points on 50% shooting from beyond the arc when Chicago pulls out a victory. While I anticipate a swift triumph in the Windy City, the Silver and Black have allowed lesser teams to hang around.
Jan 29: San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz
I feel very much the same way about this game as I did the two Milwaukee meetings earlier this month. The Jazz are a legitimate title contender with a single loss in their last 13 outings, and the Spurs are still finding their footing as we approach the All-Star break.
Utah is home to back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and Donovan Mitchell is one of the brightest young stars the league has to offer. Throw in the veteran savvy of Bojan Bogdanović and Joe Ingles, and San Antonio is almost certainly in for a long night.
Did I mention the 30-13 Jazz climbed to third place in the Western Conference with Mike Conley sidelined for 19 games? Great, because their prized offseason addition should be back to 100% by the time Utah comes to town.
Feb 1: San Antonio Spurs vs. Charlotte Hornets
The same rules that applied to the Bulls also apply to this rendition of the Hornets. Yes, they’re a disaster of a basketball team with few consistencies, but that doesn’t mean we can pencil in a victory just yet.
Despite a 15-30 record, Charlotte has been substantially better than most people expected coming into the season. The backcourt duo of Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier are frustratingly sporadic, but they can hurt you when they get on a roll.
Though head coach James Borrego and his Hornets are in the middle of a seven-game skid, Popovich disciples have a particular proclivity for winning games against their former employer. It helps that San Antonio will be home for this one, but homecourt advantage has become a little less advantageous this year.
Feb 3: San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Clippers
We’ve already gone through this exercise a couple of times, and the Spurs have come out on the other side 1-2. San Antonio snagged an emotional win at home in their second encounter with the Clippers, but their lone conquest of Los Angeles is sandwiched between two losses that left no question as to who is the better team.
This game marks the finale of the season series with Kawhi Leonard and company and signifies the beginning of the toughest Rodeo Road Trip in recent memory. Our guys can’t afford to pile on losses at this point in the schedule, though I’d be lying if I told you their annual excursion starts on a positive note.
Feb 4: San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers
Remember when the Spurs and Lakers duked it for Western Conference supremacy six games into the season? A lot has transpired since then, and San Antonio is battling to re-enter the playoff race, meanwhile, Los Angeles sits atop the standings.
As if facing both Los Angeles squads in consecutive games wasn’t difficult enough, the Silver and Black will be tasked with maneuvering a SEGABABA. In contrast, LeBron James and the rest of the showtime troupe will be fresh off three days rest.
San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail Blazers
Portland evened the season series back in November amid an off game from Damian Lillard, but their superstar is a threat to catch fire at any moment. He dropped a career-high 61 points in an overtime victory versus the league-worst Warriors on Monday night and nearly upset the Spurs on a buzzer-beater from the corner in their first clash.
While the Trail Blazers will likely look to Lillard to shoulder the scoring load, San Antonio has done a fantastic job defending the bonafide MVP candidate. The good guys have held Lillard to 25.0 points per game on just 13-of-47 (27.7%) from the field.
Stopping Portland may start with containing their top playmaker, but it doesn’t end there. CJ McCollum is a potent scorer in his own right, and Carmelo Anthony has breathed new life into an offense that was desperate for a new dynamic.
San Antonio Spurs @ Sacramento Kings
The Kings have plummetted to 14th place in the Western Conference standings since the last time they faced San Antonio. Part of their downfall can be attributed to a rash of injuries, though healthy players have struggled to build chemistry with each other.
Marvin Bagley III, De’Aaron Fox, and Buddy Hield were one of the most talked-about young trios heading into the year, and they’re finally getting a shot to make good on the preseason hype. Unfortunately, Luke Walton has been incapable of translating all that talent into tangible results.
Sacramento is near the bottom of the NBA in defensive and offensive efficiency, so securing the upper hand shouldn’t be all that challenging. If the Silver and Black bring their top ten offense to Central Valley, they could very well end this ten-game stint one game closer to .500.