It feels like just yesterday basketball fans were celebrating the return of the NBA in Orlando after the league put its season on hold in early March due to the world-wide concerns of COVID-19. 2020 will go down as a year that took everyone out of their routine and forced them to adapt. The NBA and the vast business built up around it was no exception, and adapt they did, with the summer restart in Orlando showing that the NBA could still put a great product while ensuring the safety of its players. This holiday week will begin what is essentially the next step towards returning to a sense of normalcy for the league, with games taking place out of a bubble environment and back in team’s arenas. Challenges, though, will still be faced, as they’ve been faced in various sports leagues around the world.
What about the basketball, then? Both San Antonio and Memphis come into their first game missing some key players. For the Spurs, the early season loss of guard Derrick White and 2nd year wing Keldon Johnson are devastating blows. White, who was arguably the Spurs’ best player in the bubble and is either their best or second best creator, could miss significant time recovering from toe surgery he underwent in August, while Bubble break-out sensation Johnson should be able to make his return early in 2021 as long as his rehab for a foot injury continues to go well. Memphis, meanwhile, comes in missing Spurs killer and big man sensation Jaren Jackson Jr. who’s recovering from a torn meniscus, and Justise Winslow, who has yet to suit up for Memphis since being traded this past February from the Miami Heat.
San Antonio has a brutal beginning to the season, with a host of games against both Los Angeles teams (3 games against the Lakers in 8 days!) and other potential playoff contenders, including Memphis themselves. Every game means something out West, and the Spurs have to play like it.
San Antonio Spurs (0-0) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (0-0)
December 23, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (toe - OUT), Quinndary Weatherspoon (knee- day to day), Luka Samanic (day to day), Keita Bates-Diop (day to day)
Grizzlies Injuries: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Meniscus - OUT), Justise Winslow (hip - OUT), Xavier Tillman Sr. (Knee - day to day), Killian Tillie (day to day), Jontay Porter (day to day)
What to watch for
- With Derrick White out, Lonnie Walker IV received the starting nod in the final 2 preseason games against the Houston Rockets. Walker, who recently had his team option picked up, has shown glimpses of an incredibly talented player when healthy over his first few seasons, but has struggled with consistency for a variety of reasons. With White expected to miss extended time, Walker has an opportunity to show the coaching staff just what he can do with featured minutes.
- LaMarcus Aldridge is in the process of changing his game to fit the current play style of both the Spurs and the current NBA. Aldridge took 19 3-point attempts during the preseason, and while he made only 5 of them, his willingness to take them is a great sign for a Spurs starting line-up that is currently starved of willing 3-point shooters.
- Rookie guard Devin Vassell was a bright spot during the Spurs’ 0-3 preseason. Many have proclaimed the young wing as the Spurs’ most NBA ready prospect since Kawhi Leonard back in 2012 and Vassell has shown why through his first NBA minutes. Through 3 preseason games, the rookie averaged nearly 30 minutes a game, averaged 14 points, 5 rebounds, and shot 50% from beyond the arc on 3 attempts a game. On defense he showed a natural ability to play the passing lanes, using his 6’10” wingspan to help rack up 3 steals a game. How Gregg Popovich uses the rookie throughout his first regular season will be an interesting storyline to monitor.
- While Memphis will be without Jaren Jackson Jr., the Spurs will still have to worry about reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant. Morant had Memphis on pace to make the playoffs last season before the season was halted, taking home ROY honors by averaging 18 points (48/34/78) and 7 dimes a game, all in just under 31 minutes a night. Paired with 4th year guard Dillion Brooks in the backcourt (who also had a strong season last year) and big man Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis has plenty of offense in their starting line-up to make it tough on any team.
Vegas Line: Memphis -2.5, Over/Under 231.5
The pick: Spurs by 2 and the under
For the Grizzlies fan’s perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.
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.