The Spurs will close out the first weekend of the season with their first back-to-back against the Pelicans tonight in New Orleans. After two solid wins to kick off the campaign, the Silver and Black have an opportunity to widen their early lead in the Southwest division as the only team with a winning record. Given how improbable that seemed after a dismal preseason and the looming stretch of games against teams that will likely be vying for home-court come playoff time, this game may well be the high point of the Spurs’ opening stretch.
San Antonio Spurs (2-0) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (1-1)
December 27, 2020 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (toe —OUT), Quinndary Weatherspoon (knee — OUT)
Pelicans Injuries: Wenyen Gabriel (knee — day-to-day)
What to watch for
The Spurs have continued to display their new-found affinity for pace so far this year. Just as in their surprising run in Orlando, they’re pushing in transition more often and rarely settling into the choreographed sets that defined much of the team’s offense in the last couple of years. Instead, they frequently flow directly into early offense or motion-based attacks that keep the defense on its heels.
Unsurprisingly, that has resulted in a lot of high-quality scoring opportunities. Allowing talented offensive players to live on the edge of chaos is a fine recipe for creating defensive breakdowns, but usually, its also a recipe for turnovers. But that hasn’t been the case through two games, as they've turned the ball over only slightly more than last year's squad.
Much of the credit for their success in that regard lies with the teams’ ballhandlers, with Dejounte Murray especially showing progress in his decision-making on the fly. But there’s clearly a concerted team-wide effort to not ‘do too much.’ Even a star player like LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s spending a lot of time on the floor in positions he hasn’t always been comfortable, has set the right kind of example by not forcing the offense, despite the fact that many players in his position would feel entitled to do so every now and again. If the Spurs can continue to push the pace without giving the ball away, they will be a hard team to keep up with on most nights.
The Pelicans, though, are a team that also plays fast, with the size and athleticism that can be overwhelming at times. The Spurs bore witness to Zion Williamson’s explosion into the NBA stratosphere as he put up 17 points in just over 3 minutes of game time just 11 months ago in the first game of his career. With Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and the newly acquired Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams rounding out the starting lineup, the Pelicans could present a serious matchup problem.
Aside from figuring out how to simultaneously defend Adams, a legitimate 7-footer who is a devastating screener and a force in the paint, and Williamson, both of whom can overpower just about anyone on the Spurs’ roster, the Spurs will also be on a short turnaround after last night’s exhilarating victory, and it’s very possible they’ll come out flat. Against a team with as much potential as the Pelicans, the game could slip away quickly, so it’s important that the Spurs come out firing.
Vegas Line: Pelicans -5.5, Over/Under 226.5
The pick: Spurs by 5 and the over
For the Pelicans fan’s perspective, visit The Bird Writes.
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.