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Preseason Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets

Can the good guys avoid going winless in their preseason finale?

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs return to the Toyota Center tonight to square off against the Houston Rockets for the final matchup of their abbreviated preseason schedule. San Antonio may be winless through two games, but exhibition contests like these are more about getting guys back into playing shape and less about picking up meaningless victories.

Lonnie Walker IV stole the show, Devin Vassell performed like a seasoned vet, and Dejounte Murray found his shooting stroke last time out. And now, the Silver and Black will look to sustain that progress as they piece together the puzzle of a shorthanded roster heading into an unprecedented regular season.

San Antonio Spurs (0-2) at Houston Rockets (2-1)

December 17, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: KMYS | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Toe — Out), Keldon Johnson (Foot — Out), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Knee — Out), Keita Bates-Diop (Ankle — Out), Luka Samanic (Illness — Out), Cameron Reynolds (Hamstring — Out)

Rockets Injuries: Christian Wood (Elbow — Day-to-Day), Chris Clemons (Achilles — Out)

Adjusting to Injuries

Injuries have struck the Spurs harder than most this preseason. And the Silver and Black will be without Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Cameron Reynolds, and Keita Bates-Diop for their final exhibition outing. The last four on that list may not have played much anyway, though the first pair figured to have expanded roles.

These notable absences are especially troublesome for a franchise trying to recapture what they found in the NBA Restart. Derrick and Keldon were integral to San Antonio’s success in Orlando, and they’ll sorely miss their defense and three-point shooting. While replicating those results won’t be easy, the Spurs must rely on adapting their gameplan to stay afloat.

Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell have been the primary beneficiaries of the minutes left in the wake of injuries, and both players responded with excellent outings on Tuesday night. Second-round rookie Tre Jones hasn’t put up eye-popping stats in garbage time, though his vision and defensive tenacity might earn him minutes early on in the year.

Veterans will also be monumental in determining how competitive this shorthanded Spurs squad can be. And for as much as people like myself might want to see the young core develop, PATFO are probably prioritizing getting guys like DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills shots and touches.

Taking Care of the Rock

One of the trademarks of Spurs basketball is their knack for taking care of the rock. Need proof? San Antonio has committed the sixth-fewest turnovers in the NBA since Pop took over as head coach midway through the 1996-1997 season, and even in a down year, the good guys had a league-low number of giveaways.

That kind of attention to detail was not on display versus Houston as they coughed up the ball 20 times on Tuesday night. Of course, preseason play inevitably comes with shaking off the rust and building chemistry with new teammates, but the latter doesn’t ring as true for the Spurs, who return most of their roster from a season ago.

Although Dejounte Murray dished out a game-high seven assists against the Rockets, he also tallied a game-high five turnovers. It’s not as though a single sloppy game from the Spurs rests solely on his shoulder. After all, his teammates accounted for the other 15 turnovers, and he can only control so much of the action.

However, with Derrick White out indefinitely to begin the regular season, Dejounte will likely inherit starting point guard duties. And if that’s the case, then San Antonio will need Murray to clean things up a bit. There are other areas in which the 24-year-old floor general can improve as a distributor, but for now, limiting turnovers should be the top priority.

Embracing the Three-Ball

San Antonio immediately improved on the defensive end when Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes walked in free agency this offseason. However, their exit also came with the responsibility of replacing their sizable three-point production. And so far, the Spurs haven’t had any trouble filling that gap with contributions from across the roster.

The Silver and Black have attempted more than 30 triples in each of their first two preseason outings, a mark they reached in just 29 of their 71 games a season ago. Not only has Gregg Popovich managed to increase his team’s long-range volume, but he has uncharacteristically demanded they take more threes than we’ve already witnessed.

The rest of the NBA has continued to welcome fast-paced position-less basketball, and San Antonio began to catch onto that trend in the bubble. It seems they’re intent upon carrying that strategy into a new season, and while the integration of LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t been seamless, the fact the big man has jacked up 14 threes proves he’s trying to fit in.

It’s strange to see the Spurs emphasize three-point shooting so heavily, and to be honest, if it weren’t for the name on the front of their jerseys, I might’ve mistaken them for the Rockets on Tuesday night. This shift in philosophy doesn’t appear to be a gimmick, so expect San Antonio to keep firing away from beyond the arc in their preseason finale.