The San Antonio Spurs have once again fallen out of the eighth seed after Friday night’s frustratingly close loss against the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately the immediate path to their next win and continued playoff berth relevancy is blocked by a Raptors team still lurking in the top four seeds of the Eastern Conference.
And while San Antonio did come out the victor in their last match-up against Toronto, it was a narrow victory and the Raptors have since gone on a winning streak, seemingly propelled into it by that loss to perhaps the most inconsistent team of this NBA season. Having been defeated on their home court, and looking to both preserve their winning streak and avoid being swept in the season series, you can expect that a healthier Toronto team will be very motivated to take down a Spurs team that had a bit of luck in knocking them off in the first place.
That being said, even with Pascal Siakam getting back into his early season groove, these teams look to make for closer contests than both team’s records initially suggest. Going into a bit of a deeper dive, each team lacks the strength to take overwhelming advantage of the other team’s weaknesses, with the Raptors sitting at the middle of the pack offensively (14th in points scored, 13th in offensive rating, 14th in turnovers given up) and San Antonio sitting at 21st in defensive rating.
The back and forth continues to a certain degree with Toronto sitting in the top five of the league in steals per game and 9th in assists per game, while the Spurs are in the top ten in blocks per game and are sitting (somewhat surprisingly) at 3rd in least turnovers given up and 1st in turnover-to-assist ratio. Additionally both teams are middle of the league in pace (13th and 15th), are in the top ten in three point percentage (separated by less than 1%), and feature benches that are in the top ten of the league in scoring and net rating.
While San Antonio has frequently displayed a knack for taking down Eastern Conference playoff teams, it would seem that the Raptors are a particularly good match-up for the Sliver and Black, and though it is hard to know what to expect from this team on a game-by-game basis, it’s worth noting that the Spurs are playing above .500 ball (11-9) in their last 20 games. With San Antonio hosting this one, and with DeMar DeRozan possibly holding on to some animosity for the team that traded him without consult, I’d give the Spurs the slight edge here, but I wouldn’t lay any bets on it.
San Antonio Spurs (20-24) at Toronto Raptors (31-14)
January 26, 2020 | 3:00 PM CT
Watch: KENS | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None.
Raptors Injuries: Dewan Hernandez (ankle - out), Patrick McCaw (nose - out)
What to watch for:
- Late Free Throw Woes: The Spurs have been mainstays among the top of the league in free throw percentage for the vast majority of Gregg Popovich’s coaching tenure. And after some early struggles, this year has been no exception, except in one specific regard: the fourth quarter. San Antonio is fifth in the league at 80.2%, but drops all the way to 27th (70.7%) during clutch time according to NBA stats. So it’s not just a trick of your brain making you think that the Spurs can’t seem to make a free throw when it matters most. An almost 10% shooting drop from their usual free throw percentage is proving you right. And in a game likely to be decided by a razor thin margin, that’s not exactly confidence boosting.
- Grabbing The Boards: If there’s one area that the Spurs do have a bit of an advantage in (thanks to some very bouncy guards), it’s rebounding the ball. And considering Toronto’s ability to shoot threes at a high percentage (37.6%) despite a high rate of attempts (36.2 per game), San Antonio absolutely cannot afford to give the Raptors a second look at the basket. If they do, you might as well turn off the game because it’s likely to get UGLY fast.
- Guarding the Guards: Three of Toronto highest scoring players are guards. And while San Antonio’s current defensive rotations lack an answer for Pascal Siakam, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will be counted on more than ever to stem the tide from the perimeter. If they can find a way to hang with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, the Spurs will have more than a good chance to take this one.
- DeRozan’s D: In that same vein, DeMar will be counted on to at least break even on the defensive side of the court in this one. As the player most likely to be exploited by Siakam and OG Anunoby, it’s likely that he will either have Toronto's best player coming at him or he will have to rotate to defend one of their equally lethal guards. I don’t expect a lot defensively from DeMar at this point, but if he can at least offer some resistance it’ll be a huge boon for a team with some serious forward issues.
For the Raptors’ fans’ perspective, visit Raptors HQ.
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.