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Spurs play tough vs. Rockets, but ultimately fall short

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I know that pre season games are just glorified practice and conclusions shouldn’t necessarily be made based upon them. But I can’t seem to stop my plebian brain from believing the last thing I saw is the absolute truth. After the first preseason game vs. the Thunder I was ready to put on my 2K GM hat and start making moves to fix this team.

The first move I wanted to make was to trade LaMarcus Aldridge. I thought the team needed to get smaller and faster and LaMarcus wasn’t the way to do it. It turns out my fickle mind could be changed with a simple lineup adjustment.

The Spurs started Aldridge, Gay, DeRozan, Walker IV, and Dejounte. And it worked. I immediately thought the team looked faster and played with more of a sense of urgency. They jumped out to an early lead and all was right in the world.

I think what I learned is that Poeltl and Aldridge probably shouldn’t play any minutes together. Even with their skill sets being so different, their position on the floor is the same. I mean, what is Jakob Poeltl going to do on offense if he’s not setting a screen and rolling to the basket? Likewise, Aldridge is put in good positions by setting on ball screens. He has options to roll to the basket, pop out for an open three, or if his defender closes out he can put the ball on the floor and create something that way. Putting them on the floor together diminishes both.

Speaking of different starting lineups, Lonnie Walker IV got the start vs. the Rockets and did not disappoint. He shot with no hesitation and hit a couple early threes to get the Spurs offense going. This was a good game overall for Lonnie and with as many capable players the Spurs have everyone needs to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.

The Spurs roster is full of guys with potential. And they all deserve a chance to show what they can do. Unfortunately there are only so many minutes to go around and every night somebody is going to get left out. Walker IV showed his worth tonight with his 17 points on 6/11 shooting and 3 3s.

You know who else showed their worth tonight? Rookie, Devin Vassell. I’ve only seem him play twice and he’s made me fall in love both times. He can do it all. It’s a small sample size, but he has hit his 3s consistently. He can drive and cut to finish around the basket. And he actually finishes. On defense he constantly has his hands on the ball. He had 4 steals and only committed one foul in 32 minutes of play. He’s THE guy.

I like him playing with Patty Mills. Both of those guys are relentless and bring huge energy. Can’t you imagine them together, going on a personal 9-0 run to flip an important playoff game? Plus, having Patty on the floor is like having a coach out there with you. It’s not a bad way for Vassell to learn.

One thing I did notice and it might not be specifically a Spurs thing, is guys giving up on offensive possession too early and throwing up bad, contested layups. What I mean is, if someone drives and a good layup isn’t there what’s stopping them from continuing the dribble, backing out and setting up again? Just because you want to play fast doesn’t mean you HAVE to shoot immediately. My example is Steve Nash. He would drive around a pick and if nothing was there he could circle back to the perimeter, get another pick and try again. Whatever shot you get the second time couldn’t be any worse than a wild layup, could it? Of course, not everybody is Steve Nash.

Speaking of point guards who could handle the ball, the Spurs biggest problem this game was doing the opposite of that. Overall they committed 20 turnovers. I’ll give credit where credit is due. The Rocket defense was probably more intense than the Spurs were expecting. Especially for the second preseason game. Even so, the Spurs could have and should have handled it better. There were two especially egregious errors. The first was toward the end of the 2nd quarter when Lonnie Walker IV let Demarcus Cousins pick his pocket and get an easy 2 points on the other end. I know Cousins is more skilled than your average big man, but you still can’t let that happen. The other one was halfway through the 3rd quarter when James Harden stole a lazy inbound pass from Dejounte Murray. That can’t happen either.

It was far from all negative. There were some really good things happening on the court too. At one point during the 3rd quarter I said out loud to myself, “both of these teams are playing really hard on defense.” And it was true. The Spurs may have committed 20 turnovers, but they forced 17 of their own. And held the Rockets to just 21 points in the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately they only scored 17 themselves. But that wasn’t Lonnie Walker IV’s fault. He actually helped stop the bleeding and got the Spurs close in the 3rd with 3 driving layups.

The 4th quarter was once again bench clearing time. Instead of letting myself get distracted I gave myself an assignment and was going to take a real good look at what Tre Jones could do. He was okay. He had 3 points and 3 assists. But I couldn’t fully concentrate on Tre, because this Devin Vassell guy kept popping up on my screen making plays. I’m telling you, he’s THE guy. Also, Cam Reynolds was on the floor. He missed 3 shots, got 1 rebound and was called for a charge.

Game Notes

  • On a sad note, Rockets guard Chris Clemons looked as if he injured his achilles and had to be wheeled off the floor. Let’s hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked and he can play again as soon as possible.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge only shot 3/10 from the floor, but got to the free throw line 6 times to end up with 12 points in 24 minutes of work. He looks as though he’s ready to start the season.
  • Speaking of free throws the Spurs were only 16/27. That’s 59.3%. Against the Thunder they only shot 17/25 for 68%. I don’t know how much they actually matter, but those are free points, right? Hit your free throws.
  • Rudy Gay has continued his stellar play from the bubble. He scored 11 points on 5/7 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds in only 21 minutes of work.
  • Dejounte Murray had a pretty good all around game. He had 13 points 5 rebounds and 7 assists. I could have done without those 5 turnovers though.
  • Trey Lyles has yet to find his shot this preseason. He was 3/12 overall and only 1/6 from behind the arc. But he did still manage to keep himself productive with 9 rebounds.
  • Patty Mills continues to show his worth. I don’t think it was an accident that he was on the floor at the same time both rookies were. He’s basically a coach out there and I hope the young guys are paying attention.

Next up: @ Rockets on Thursday

The Spurs will stay in Houston to finish up their preseason before the real games start on December 23rd.