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Spurs can’t stop their downward spiral in road loss to Kings

San Antonio looks determined to make last season’s (1-7) rodeo road trip feel like a success.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On the same day Bruno Passos published an article that Dejounte Murray still has much to prove, Murray came out and had his most complete game of the season. Murray scored 17 points on 11 shots, while adding 3 steals, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists to 0 turnovers in only 27 minutes. One game certainly doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things, but performances like tonight show glimpses of a bright future.

Murray’s strong performance ended up getting overshadowed by the Spurs inability to control the Kings’ three point attack, and rightfully so. The Kings finished with 19 made three point shots to the Spurs’ seven. I’d have to wager a guess that not many teams end up on the winning side of a game when being outscored by 36 points from deep. The Spurs were no different, losing to the Kings 102-122 and staying winless in the first four games of the rodeo road trip.

If a team is going to give up that many points from distance, they are going to have to find ways to make up the difference elsewhere. The hope would be in the painted area where shots are the most efficient. High-percentage two pointers are one of the only ways to counter a three point barrage, with free throws being another. Unfortunately neither came to fruition against the Kings. Both the Kings and Spurs made 13 free throws and the strong post play from Harrison Barnes helped keep the Kings dead even with the Spurs at 48 points in the paint.

It’s looking bleak for the Spurs at the moment. They still have four games remaining on the rodeo road trip, and all four games are against Western Conference playoff teams. The Spurs likely decided to stand pat at the trade deadline because they felt continuity would put them in the best position to reach the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season, but that seems like a contradiction at this point. Jesus Gomez put together a good piece on why the Spurs’ standing pat at the trade deadline was inevitable, but that doesn’t help to ease the pain I’m feeling as a Spurs’ fan who is watching a team with no clear direction.

The other teams vying for the eighth spot in the West are all playing well, making each loss all the more frustrating. The Memphis Grizzlies and Kings have each won 6 of their last 8 games, while the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans have each won 5 of their last 7 games. Though the Spurs’ schedule will eventually soften, it may not matter. The Spurs might be too far behind the pack by then (and let’s be honest, wins against bad teams are far from guaranteed), setting the Spurs up for their first lottery pick since Tim Duncan.

But don’t get too excited if you’re on the ‘tank for a high draft pick’ side of the fence. As bad as it’s been for the Spurs at times, they somehow have a better record than all seven teams in the Eastern Conference currently outside the playoff picture. This makes the likelihood of a top 10 pick in the draft low, and with the draft considered to be weak, finding a difference maker through the draft will be a challenge.

I apologize for my tangent away from recapping the game, but there’s not a whole lot to discuss that hasn’t already been discussed. The Spurs continue to struggle containing teams from distance. They can’t seem to string together stops when needed. They still take far too few shots from three and are near the bottom in points in the paint. That means far too many points are coming from the least efficient parts of the court. The Spurs have been able to maintain a top 10 offense despite a formula opposite to every other team, but it’s just not sustainable in the modern NBA. The Spurs have too many one-dimensional players, making it difficult to find rotations that can consistently produce on both ends of the court.

Notes from the game

  • DeMar DeRozan got ejected in the fourth quarter while complaining about a foul that was called against him. The first technical came after he slammed the ball to the ground, causing the ball to bounce well over his head. It looked like a typical Murray dribble to me, but I digress. Derrick White tried to calm him down, but DeRozan was having none of it. He quickly received his second technical and was sent to the locker room. I understand the frustration. We see fouls called all the time on players who barely come into contact with the person driving to the basket. Even worse, we see fouls called all the time on players when the person driving to the basket creates the contact and the defender just happened to be in the vicinity. Sean Elliott seemed confused at one point in the game, asking if the players are supposed to just get out of the way when somebody is driving to the rim. On the flip side, I’ve seen DeRozan get hit in the head many times this season with no call. Maybe if the Spurs were winning more often it would help ease the pain, but the Spurs’ struggles coupled with his blatant lack of calls seems to be starting to boil over in his head.
  • Buddy Hield had two more three point makes than the entire Spurs team. He went 9 for 10 from deep, and ended the night with 31 points overall. If you want to see something gross, look at the +/- numbers for the Spurs’ bench compared to the Kings’ bench. It’s a sight to behold. A lot of that came at the end of the third quarter when the Kings went on a 15-0 run. Typically it’s the bench unit of the Spurs who builds a lead only to watch the starters give it away down the stretch. This time it was the other way around. I know we’ve all been clamoring for the Spurs to change things up, but I don’t think this is what we meant.
  • Rudy Gay continued his disappearing act against the Kings. I know I’m just wasting my time brining up his name at this point, but shouldn’t DeMarre Carroll be given a chance to steal some of Gay’s minutes? The Spurs kept Carroll in San Antonio during the rodeo road trip because they were apparently working with his agent to find him a new home, but that didn’t happen. Since he’s still on the roster, Coach Pop might as well give him some run. He couldn’t possibly be any worse than Gay has been this season, could he?
  • LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan each took 10 shots this game. Every game needs to be played like it’s an elimination game at this point, so watching both be as passive as they were doesn’t give me a good feeling that they have the same desire to fight for a playoff spot as the front office does. Aldridge was double-teamed quite often, so that certainly played a role. Still, his two points in the first half is noteworthy. He was more aggressive in the third quarter, but should the coaching staff really have to tell him to be more aggressive at halftime? Shouldn’t he just be aggressive all the time since he’s supposed to be one of the Spurs’ main offensive threats?