After getting back-to-back road wins in Phoenix and New Orleans, the Spurs hold the eighth best record in the conference. Now they’ll get another crack at the Suns, this time at home, in a matchup that could allow San Antonio to create some serious separation in the standings from a direct rival for the last postseason spot.
Beyond the potential seeding implications of the matchups, a win would give the Spurs their longest win streak of the season and could signal that they are finally turning the corner at the right time, as the Rodeo Road Trip approaches. It’s hard to believe in a real transformation since inconsistency has been a hallmark of this team, and the two most recent wins featured near collapses, but San Antonio came out ahead both times on the road, which has been happening more often lately. During the month of January they have gotten as many wins away from the AT&T Center as they did in the prior three months, an encouraging sign as the RRT approaches.
Now it’s time to take care of business at home. Four of the Spurs’ next five games will be in San Antonio with the only road matchup coming against the dreadful Bulls. Going into the longest road trip of the season with a winning record is not out of the question, but in order to do so there can’t be any letdown games. A good way to set the tone would be to sweep the season series against the Suns, but it won’t be easy. The last two times these two teams faced each other, the winner was determined by two points, so the Spurs will have to be sharp if they want to emerge victorious.
San Antonio Spurs (20-23) at Phoenix Suns (18-26)
January 24, 2020 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None.
Suns Injuries: Cameron Johnson (quad — out), Frank Kaminsky (knee — out), Aron Baynes (hip — questionable).
The Spurs need to contain Devin Booker
The Suns star missed the first matchup with the Spurs but dropped 37 points in the second one, 28 of which came in the second half during a comeback attempt that narrowly failed. Booker is exactly the type of player that gives the Spurs fits since he can pull up from anywhere, rendering San Antonio’s drop coverage on the pick and roll ineffective, and he knows how to move without the ball. He can also set others up, which means sending help aggressively or doubling him won’t neutralize him like it would most pure scorers.
The Spurs had success against him in the first half of their last matchup by having Bryn Forbes chase him when he was off the ball and swarming him on drives, turning him into a passer and getting away with it as Phoenix’s shooters bricked threes. In the second half Booker adjusted and started to aggressively look for his own shot more, exploiting the gaps in San Antonio’s defense. Once he caught fire, the Spurs struggled to contain him despite putting Derrick White on him. Booker owned the third quarter and kept the Suns in the game when nothing else was working for them.
It will be interesting to see how the Spurs defend him now. It might be tempting to put Dejounte Murray on him and Forbes on Ricky Rubio, but Murray is at his best terrorizing ball handlers, not chasing off-ball threats. White will certainly have to do a better job when he gets a turn, and Pop might even have to give Lonnie Walker IV some extra minutes since his length seemed to bother Booker. Nothing the Spurs do will completely shut down the star shooting guard, but if they can prevent him from going off again they should be able to contain the Suns’ offense.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s shooting could give the Suns trouble
Aldridge’s mid-season transformation into a stretch five has been one of the most interesting Spurs-related story lines this year and a big reason why the team has improved. His ability to take a significant amount of shots from beyond the arc while making enough of them to be a real threat has opened up space for DeMar DeRozan to work closer to the basket and has helped mask the lack of shooting elsewhere in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really been able to show the Suns his new skill yet.
Aldridge went 1-for-4 in Phoenix in the last matchup and 1-for-3 in the one before that. He hasn’t been all that efficient against the Suns in general, but his lack of success from outside has been particularly damning, considering how important it would be for Deandre Ayton to have to step outside the paint to guard him. Ayton is not the most nimble defender, but he’s big and long, which allows him to be useful close to the basket. If Aldridge could force him to defend him all the way out to the three-point line, however, the rest of the Spurs could attack the rim with more freedom.
Aldridge’s three-point shooting has cooled off recently after a scorching hot stretch, but if it returns to form against the Suns, the Spurs could have the edge they need on offense to win a crucial game against a fellow playoff contender.
For the Suns fans’ perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun.
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.