The Spurs and Thunder meet Tuesday night in Oklahoma City as opposite sides of the same coin. If you think about it, the teams’ recent history is not too different:
- they have been the two most consistently excellent franchises of the past decade, #1 and #2 in the league in regular season winning percentage and making the playoffs either every year (Spurs) or all years but one (Thunder),
- both have had superstars leave in less than ideal circumstances (Durant in 2016, #2 in 2018, George and Westbrook in 2019),
- both are trying to balance rosters with win-now vets and still-developing youth,
- and both chose to make no trades at this year’s trade deadline.
On the court, this year’s Spurs and Thunder teams are quite different. The Thunder have surprised the league and are now tied for sixth in the West. The Spurs, as we know, have struggled. Chris Paul is a deserving All-Star and perhaps the league’s deadliest crunch-time guard. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has continued his promising growth in year two. Dennis Schroeder has had a career year, averaging new highs in eFG%, 3pt%, rebounds, and multiple other efficiency metrics. Danilo Gallinari picked up where he left off last year - shooting over 40% from three and continuing to be one of the best stretch four’s in the league. Steven Adams is still doing Steven Adams things (if you want to feel very confused, just look up Adams’ age) and is somehow* averaging a career high in rebounds per 100 possessions.
Expectations are everything. The Thunder were predicted to win ~33 games this year, while the Spurs were expected to have ~43. The Thunder have benefited from their expectations, while the Spurs seem to have been trapped by theirs. The Thunder chose not to make trades from a position of strength, with the playoffs nearly guaranteed, while the Spurs’ roster issues were well-known league-wide and their flexibility limited by a buyer’s market. If this year continues on trend for both teams, next year the expectation game will be flipped, to the Spurs’ benefit.
*Because he stopped gifting Russell Westbrook his rebounds.
San Antonio Spurs (22-30) at Oklahoma City Thunder (32-21)
February 11, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Thunder Injuries: Andre Roberson (out), Darius Bazley (day to day)
What to watch for
- Every game is important to the Spurs’ playoff hopes, but the final game before the All-Star break is even more important to help set the tone for the rest of the season. No one wants a bad taste in their mouth they can’t wash out for 10 days.
- The Thunder are finishing a leisurely four game February homestand, having played only three previous games in the month of February. They are 8-2 in their past 10 games, best in the Western Conference.
- In contrast, the schedule makers have done the Spurs no favors. The Silver & Black will play their seventh game of the month on Tuesday, and are 3-7 in their last ten games (prior to Monday’s game vs. the Nuggets). Brutal.
- If the Spurs are to get a win, they may need LaMarcus Aldridge to go off for 25+ points. In the last 6 games against the Thunder, the Spurs are 4-0 when LaMarcus has 25 or more, and 0-2 when he has less than that.
- The Spurs’ guards will need to at least keep it close against the Thunder’s guards. The Spurs won the first game of the year against OKC at home in November, and lost the second home game in January. In the January loss, the Paul-Shai-Schroeder triumvirate combined for 60 points on 46 shots. On the other side, DeMar DeRozan went for an efficient 30 points, and Lonnie Walker IV put up 16 points and 7 rebounds, but the other guards - Murray, Forbes, White, Mills - combined for a poor 19 points on 31 shots. Better efficiency on offense and at least decent defense will be required to get a win.
For the Thunder fan’s perspective, please visit Welcome to Loud City.
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.