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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Charlotte Hornets

Can the Silver and Black gain some momentum heading into the Rodeo Road Trip?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Hornets are about as terrible as it gets when it comes to NBA offenses. Charlotte ranks 28th in field goal percentage, last in points per game, and are one of four teams league-wide without a top 50 scorer on their roster.

Though this matchup may seem simple enough at the surface, Spurs fans know better than to pencil in a victory against an association bottom dweller. San Antonio has lost twice to both the Eastern Conference worst Atlanta Hawks and the 14th place Minnesota Timberwolves this season alone.

Thankfully for the Silver and Black, the final game before the Rodeo Road Trip will be at home in front of a welcoming AT&T Center crowd. While a win here could be the key to staying afloat amid the toughest stretch of their schedule, a loss could send them spiraling towards the 2020 lottery.

Charlotte is just 1-9 in their last 10 outings, with their lone win coming against the abominable New York Knicks. The good guys are by far the better team on paper, though hypothetical superiority hasn’t played out in their favor many times up to this point.

San Antonio Spurs (21-26) versus Charlotte Hornets (16-32)

February 1, 2020 | 8:0 PM CT

Watch: KENS 5 | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Thumb Day-to-Day)

Hornets Injuries: None

Playing Above Poor Competition

As I mentioned above, the Spurs have struggled mightily versus weaker opponents. This fact is made even more confusing considering San Antonio has performed quite well against legitimate playoff contenders, including a LaMarcus Aldridge-less triumph over Utah this week.

Although they sport a losing record against playoff teams (11-16), the Spurs have looked more focused when sharing the floor with better competition. The script completely flips when they go head to head with fellow lottery clubs (10-10), and their effort and execution noticeably declines.

Defeating the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, and Jazz in a calendar month is an impressive accomplishment. However, when it coincides with avoidable losses to the Grizzlies, Hawks, Suns, and Bulls, its impossible to build momentum. San Antonio will have a chance to continue their arduous climb up the standings on Saturday night, but it’ll be on them to take care of business.

Halting the Hornets’ Backcourt

The names Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of organizations across the league. With that being said, don’t let their lack of celebrity status fool you into thinking they can’t be a massive headache for the Silver and Black.

Former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego is running a two-point guard system in Charlotte, and his young floor generals have responded well to their new responsibilities. Both ballhandlers average just above 18 points per game, and Graham has enjoyed a somewhat surprising breakout campaign in his sophomore season.

The former Kansas Jayhawk has drastically improved his statistical output in virtually every statistical category, and his 367 assists are good for fifth-most in the NBA. He’s also on pace to nail a second-year player record 292 threes, which would blow Kyle Korver’s previous mark of 226 triples out of the water.

Replacing Kemba Walker as the face of the franchise was going to be a tall task for Terry Rozier, and he’s done about as well as you could hope for a guy with minimal starting experience. Filling the shoes of a four-time All-Star isn’t easy, but scoring 20 or more points in your first 48 games with your new club is a good place to start.

Picking on PJ Washington

Rookie forward PJ Washington has put together a solid start to his professional career. The 12th overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft averages 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds on 48-40-66 shooting splits, respectable numbers for anyone regardless of tenure.

The Hornets aren’t a particularly good basketball team, but they seem to operate at a higher level when their first-round selection finds a rhythm. Charlotte is 11-10 when Washington scores at least 13 points, and 4-18 when he fails to reach that target. Their record plummets to 1-13 when he scores less than 9 points.

PJ isn’t their first, second, or even third option on offense, but with so few consistent contributors, the Hornets need his productivity to stay competitive. If the Spurs can keep track of the rook and limit his open looks, Charlotte will be hard-pressed to find a reliable replacement on their bench.

Rolling With the Hot Hand

DeMar DeRozan has been on an absolute tear since December 21st. The four-time All-Star (should’ve been five) has averaged 26.4 points per game on a robust 69.1% field goal percentage and won Western Conference Player of the Week over this time frame.

His list of achievements doesn’t stop there. He also scored his 16,000th career point, set an NBA guard record for most consecutive games with at least 20 points while shooting at least 50% from the field, and became the first Spur to record 35 or more points in back to back contests since Tony Parker did so during the 2008-2009 season.

Unfortunately, San Antonio hasn’t been able to capitalize on DeMar’s unbelievable individual run, breaking even at 10-10 in their last 20 games. Despite underachieving as a group, this weekend’s matchup has all the makings of another huge night for DeRozan. Charlotte lacks the combination of size, strength, and speed necessary to slow him down, and a third-straight 30 piece isn’t out of the realm of possibility.