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Preseason Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets

Will the Silver and Black rebound from their hot-and-cold exhibition opener?

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs are back in business tonight as they take on the Rockets in a special exhibition edition of the infamous I-10 rivalry. San Antonio’s first preseason game against the Thunder didn’t go to plan, but they’ll look to bounce back against a fellow Texas team that underwent massive roster turnover this offseason.

Russell Westbrook, Robert Covington, and Austin Rivers moved on from the team via free agency or trade, and John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Christian Wood are still finding their footing in Houston. And with all of the James Harden drama playing out in the media like a soap opera, a tense situation is only growing murkier.

While poor shooting from key rotational contributors marred the Spurs’ unofficial home opener last weekend, the Silver and Black should have plenty of optimism. Lottery pick Devin Vassell played better than advertised, LaMarcus Aldridge looked comfortable from three-point land, and San Antonio showed a commitment to pushing the pace.

San Antonio Spurs (0-1) at Houston Rockets (1-1)

December 15, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Toe — Day-to-Day), Keldon Johnson (Foot — Day-to-Day), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Knee — Day-to-Day), Keita Bates-Diop (Ankle - Day-to-Day)

Rockets Injuries: Christian Wood (Elbow - Day-to-Day)

Letting the Young Core Loose

Preseason is the best time to get inexperienced pieces acclimated to their new roles while building confidence in a pressure-free setting, and the Spurs have 11 players under the age of 25 on their roster. That’s why I find it strange that Gregg Popovich gave just four of the youngsters 20 minutes in San Antonio’s exhibition opener.

Devin Vassell was exceptional in his unofficial NBA debut, Jakob Poeltl resumed blocking shots at a phenomenal rate, and Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles looked every bit as rusty as one might expect after a long layoff. However, the remaining members of the young core hardly had a chance to get involved in the action.

Drew Eubanks, Lonnie Walker IV, Tre Jones, and Luka Samanic logged limited court time on Saturday night, the latter pair not entering the game until the fourth quarter. And though that may not be a genuine cause for concern, you would like to see each of them receive an extended run in a game that doesn’t count towards the standing.

With Derrick White and Keldon Johnson soon rejoining the squad, how much will we be seeing any of the previously mentioned players over the last two preseason outings? The veterans still need to keep their legs warm, but that doesn’t mean allowing them nearly 25 minutes apiece because nobody should eclipse that mark.

Altering the Starting Lineup

After hearing Pop talk about continuing the implementation of small-ball heading into the upcoming season, the decision to roll out a starting five of Dejounte, DeMar, Rudy, LaMarcus, and Jakob was confusing. Not only was that lineup notably tall, but spacing issues became apparent within the opening moments of the first frame.

San Antonio was without Derrick White and Keldon Johnson, two players who figure to soak up a healthy share of minutes this year, so there’s a possibility Saturday’s starters are a one-off experiment. And assuming they are, Lonnie Walker IV or Devin Vassell are my top choices to replace Rudy and Jakob come Tuesday night if Derrick isn’t available.

It’s not that Gay or Poeltl can’t provide value in the starting lineup, but they’re more useful off the bench given the current roster construction. Patty and Rudy could prove to be a potent one-two scoring punch for the second unit, and the long-distance shooting and defensive acumen of Vassell and Walker blend seamlessly with high-usage options.

The Spurs’ rapid pace suggests they’re intent upon executing some form of the bubble ball we saw during the NBA Restart, and the Silver and Black should search for a configuration that’s better suited towards this style of play. While Keldon and Derrick would also be preferable starters, their status is questionable.

Building a Good Rhythm

San Antonio didn’t light up the Thunder quite as I expected them to, but they’ll once again have a golden opportunity to get into a scoring groove when they square off against the Rockets. Though Houston has some solid defenders in John Wall, Christian Wood, PJ Tucker, and James Harden (you read that correctly), the rest of their roster is uninspiring.

Despite head coach Stephen Silas confirming Harden will participate in this preseason tilt, Christian Wood remains sidelined with an elbow injury, and no one has registered more than 25 minutes for the Rockets thus far. And this probably means more offense since San Antonio won’t have to overcome four quarters of stingy defense from multiple stoppers.

Despite several Spurs struggling from the floor against Oklahoma City, the team showed a willingness to fire away from deep. Their 38 three-point attempts on Saturday matched their second-highest total from a season ago. Considering the Rockets gave up the ninth-most long-distance tries last year, San Antonio could be in for a huge night from beyond the arc.

For the Rockets fan’s perspective, visit The Dream Shake.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat throughout the game. You can also follow along with the action over at PtR’s Twitter feed.