The Spurs suffered a 19-point blowout in Brooklyn on Friday night and now find themselves in 12th place in the Western Conference. As if that wasn’t enough, second-year guard Lonnie Walker IV exited the game with a shin contusion adding to San Antonio’s growing list of injured players.
The good guys fulfilled a Seinfeld proficy in an embarrassing overtime loss to Cleveland in their first meeting this season, but the Ohio-based franchise will potentially be without several key participants. A plethora of injuries have sidelined eight different Cavaliers, which makes the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl, Marco Belinelli, and Lonnie Walker IV feel insignificant in comparison.
Despite a shared shorthandedness and a pair of sub .500 records, the Silver and Black possess the talent and experience to pick up a much-needed road win. The last place Cavaliers could very well be fully engaged in tank mode in an attempt to secure a top pick in the 2020 Draft, so San Antonio should have an excellent opportunity to rebound from their recent loss.
San Antonio Spurs (26-35) versus Cleveland Cavaliers (18-45)
March 8, 2020 | 6:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Shoulder - Out), Jakob Poeltl (MCL - Out), Marco Belinelli (Illness - Out), Chimezie Metu (On Assignment - Out), Lonnie Walker IV (Shin - Questionable)
Cavaliers Injuries: Dylan Windler (Leg - Out), Dante Exum (Ankle - Out), Andre Drummond (Calf - Questionable), Tristan Thompson (Knee - Questionable), Alfonzo McKinnie (Heel - Questionable), Kevin Porter (Head - Questionable), Darius Garland (Groin - Questionable), Dean Wade (Ankle - Game Time Decision)
Reconfiguring the Rotations
Head coach Gregg Popovich mixed things up on Friday night and turned to a small-ball starting lineup of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, and Trey Lyles. Although it was refreshing to see a backcourt combination of Murray and White, the Spurs found themselves outscored 22-41 by the end of the first quarter.
Scoring the ball is the name of the game, but San Antonio truly struggled in the battle for boards. They were outrebounded 18-31 in the first half, and the Nets ended the evening with a 19-6 edge in second-chance points. Their lack of frontcourt depth was their downfall, and Brooklyn’s big men took advantage of their size.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will possibly be without the services of three of their tallest players coming into Sunday’s matchup, but they’ll still have former rebounding champion Kevin Love and Larry Nance at their disposal. Drew Eubanks, Luka Samanic, and Lyles are the only healthy big men available for this tilt, and it might behoove the Spurs to utilize them more heavily.
Bryn’s one-dimensional game has proved to be detrimental to team success, and it’s a wonder the undersized combo guard ranks third in minutes played at this point in the season. I’m not sure Forbes would start for any other NBA franchise, though placing 614th in Defensive Points Saved leads me to believe the answer to that question is probably no.
Capitalizing on Cleveland’s Egregious Execution
The Cavaliers are one of the worst basketball organizations in the association, and that kind of thing happens when you have trouble scoring and stopping your opponent from doing so. Cleveland is the fifth-worst scoring team in the NBA (106.6 PPG), and they give up the sixth-most points per game (114.9 PPG).
They also sport a league-worst 49.1% opponent shooting percentage while posting a tenth-worst 45.6% field goal percentage. Their shortcomings don’t stop there. In addition to their inefficient shooting, the Cavs maintain the sort of lackadaisical ball movement that has led to their league-worst 16.4 turnovers per game.
Their opponents are tops in the NBA in steals (9.3 SPG) and blocks per game (6.5 BPG), and San Antonio should be able to expose the numerous holes in Cleveland’s composition. Though I probably told you something similar in the first go-round, I have more faith in the Spurs’ ability to capitalize on the Cavs tired legs in the SEGABABA.
Putting the Clamps Collin Sexton
The Cavaliers snapped their four-game losing streak on Saturday night, and Collin Sexton played a huge role in their upset of the third-place Denver Nuggets. The second-year guard racked up 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in a team and game-high 40 minutes.
Sexton is in the middle of a fantastic sophomore campaign, and he has taken his game to another level since the tail end of February. He is averaging 28.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on 56-49-80 shooting splits over his last six outings.
Collin Sexton ERUPTS for the first 40-point game of his career!— NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) March 5, 2020
41 PTS, 6 AST, 52.6 FPTS pic.twitter.com/Qw4vIkF9jV
Cleveland is 10-14 when Collin scores at least 23 points and 8-31 when he fails to reach that mark. Kevin Love is another guy San Antonio will need to keep an eye on, but since the offense runs through the fleet-footed two-guard, Sexton should be the Spurs’ top priority.
Building Rhythm for the Rookies
As I mentioned earlier, the Silver and Black are incredibly shorthanded at the moment, and that has forced their trio of rookies into the rotation in recent games. Luka Samanic made his highly anticipated NBA debut against Brooklyn on Friday night, Quinndary Weatherspoon got minutes for the second time this season, and Keldon Johnson continued to see his role increase.
Keldon Johnson scored a career-high 13 points in the Spurs blowout loss to Brooklyn last night.— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) March 7, 2020
The 20-year-old rookie finished in traffic, nailed a triple, and knocked down a midrange jumper.
He also played some solid defense and looked genuinely comfortable out on the court. pic.twitter.com/38QlzVJa4N
While Keldon has thrived to a tune of 9.7 points per game on 55% shooting over his last three contests, his fellow first-year Spurs haven’t had much success. To be honest, that isn’t exactly their fault considering the circumstances of their limited appearances.
Samanic and Weatherspoon looked uncomfortable versus the Nets, and neither player made a serious attempt to assert himself on the offensive end. Though their hesitancy may be a cause for concern for some fans, it was encouraging to see their defensive effort translate into a 68.0 Defensive Rating in the 11 minutes they shared on the court.
Luka Samanic looked a little like a fish out of water in his scoreless NBA debut with the Spurs.— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) March 7, 2020
The rookie forward showed some positive signs despite missing a few threes and struggling to finish.
He might be a long term project but he is a fluid athlete and just 20-years-old. pic.twitter.com/DwJnMGqE6S
With San Antonio falling out of the postseason hunt and down to just 11 players, it might make sense to grant the young guns a little professional seasoning down the homestretch. The G-League is a proven tool to teach the tricks of the trade to newcomers, but there’s nothing like the firsthand experience of NBA action.
For the Cavaliers fan’s perspective, visit Fear the Sword
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.