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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The first of 3 match-ups between these teams in the next 9 days tips off tonight in San Antonio.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot to enjoy through the Spurs’ 2-1 start to the season. The young players that San Antonio has drafted the last few years have as much of the spotlight, if not more, than the vets, while those same vets have made changes to their own games in the hopes of complimenting the youth movement. If not for a few empty possessions to close out the game against the Pelicans on Sunday night the good guys would be sitting at 3-0 on the young season.

Tonight’s game against LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers begins a grueling schedule that stretches through to the beginning of February. San Antonio will play 20 games in a 35-day period, playing at least every other day, with a handful of SEGABABAs thrown in for good measures. Of those 20 games, 16 are against Bubble teams and 12 are against playoff teams from last season. The game tonight is the first of 3 meetings between these two teams over the next 9 days.

Such is life in the 2020-2021 NBA season.

With the Lakers at 2-2, the Spurs have a shot to catch them early in the season before they’ve managed to fully gel and integrate all of their new pieces.

San Antonio Spurs (2-1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2-2)

December 30, 2020 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (toe —out), Quinndary Weatherspoon (knee — out)

Lakers Injuries: Alex Caruso (hand — out), LeBron James (ankle — questionable)

The Lakers are a bit different this year

Coming off the 17th championship in franchise history, the Lakers made a variety of moves to their squad, in large part because of the short-term contracts that players have signed there over the last 3 years that James has been there. This has allowed them as much flexibility as possible going into the summers. While James and big man Anthony Davis anchor the entire show, the offseason additions of Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell provide just enough of the same from some of last year’s team, while also bringing some new stuff on board that could give these Lakers a completely different feel.

Take, for example, the acquisition of Schroder over the summer to fill in the gap left by Rajon Rando’s departure in free agency. Schroder is more of a score-first point guard, completely in contrast to Rondo’s style as that of an old school, pure point guard. He’s also coming off his best season as a 3-point shooter (38% on 5 attempts last year in OKC), something that Rondo generally has never been known for. The Lakers might miss some of Rondo’s playmaking, but Schroder provides just enough of what he brought while also bringing something different to the table.

The Spurs have seemingly joined the new-NBA and are launching 3-pointers like everyone else

It’s been easy to point at San Antonio the last few seasons and lament their shot selection, specifically the over-abundance of mid-range shots. This is especially true of their bigger name players, as DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have made their NBA careers taking shots that are now considered the least desirable in basketball. Those shots are still part of their repertoire, but both are finally taking those looks from 3 when presented with them, to varying degrees of success so far.

This willingness to let it fly has spread to the entire team. Going back to the preseason, the Spurs are averaging nearly 33 attempts a game from outside, which would have put them in the middle of the pack last year and more in line with what is being seen across the league. Of the 6 games they’ve suited up for (including preseason) only one featured less than 31 attempts beyond the arc, the win in the opener over the Memphis Grizzlies (25).

Keldon Johnson continues to stand out

NBA life is going pretty well for 2nd year wing Keldon Johnson. After having an eye-opening performance in what turned out to be Tim Duncan’s head coaching debut late last season, “the Mustang,” as Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ commentators have referred to him, saw significant time in the Orlando Bubble in July, earning a spot in Pop’s Bubble rotation. Fast-forward a few months and he’s in the starting line-up on Opening Night after injury speculation made it seem as though he might miss a bit of time, a devastating blow to a team already missing Derrick White.

If there was an injury, it clearly wasn’t significant. Johnson has been phenomenal to start the season, pulling in a double-double in the loss to the Pelicans while coming just a single rebound shy in the Spurs’ win over the Raptors. His 9th rebound and ensuing free throws in that game clinched it for San Antonio in the waning seconds, ensuring a 5 point victory.

The game against the Pelicans was a great example of the type of player Johnson is. Offensively, he’s going to take open shots, find the open man (5 assists), take care of the ball, and attack the rim without fear, while on the defensive side he has a big body to stymie opposing players and make them work. With both Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV playing well early on, Pop may have an interesting decision to make once Derrick White is ready to make his season debut.

For the Lakers fans’ perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.

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.