The Spurs have looked better than anticipated in the league’s return, but after two early wins in the bubble they couldn’t hang with two opponents that were simply more talented and significantly bigger. Their chances of making it to the postseason remain intact, but they will need to start getting wins immediately.
Initially it looked like it would be tough to achieve that goal in Friday’s matchup with the Utah Jazz: a talented team with a dominant center and strong guard play that could neutralize the Spurs’ usual advantage there. Fortunately for San Antonio, Coach Quin Snyder decided to rest four starters for the night, including his biggest stars.
It was expected for teams that have already made the playoffs to give his players days off, but perhaps not this early. It’s a huge break for the Spurs, which now have a perfect opportunity to beat an opponent they would have certainly struggled against otherwise. It will be on the Silver and Black to make the most of these fortunate circumstances.
Don’t lose the “appropriate fear”
It will be key for the Spurs to have what Gregg Popovich calls “appropriate fear” when facing such a shorthanded opponent. It would be so easy to hear the news that the Jazz will essentially play their subs and assume they will get an easy win. But if these Spurs have proved anything in the bubble, it’s that wounded teams can still be dangerous.
The Jazz are not the deepest team, but they do have some interesting players o3n their bench that would surely welcome the opportunity to prove their worth. Emmanuel Mudiay will likely start next to Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt while Joe Ingles and Georges Niang will probably be the forwards, with Tony Bradley as the guy in the middle. There is some talent there, even if the names don’t inspire fear. There won’t be a lot of proven depth behind that starting unit beside veteran big man Ed Davis, but there are plenty of young prospects looking to make their mark.
The Spurs should absolutely beat this version of the Jazz, if they take the game seriously. If they let the underdogs hang around by playing with low energy, however, they could find themselves in trouble.
A perfect opportunity for Lonnie and Dejounte to bounce back
Lonnie Walker IV is averaging just 10 points per game since the restart and has only gotten to the free throw line three total times, despite playing 24 minutes a game. Dejounte Murray is averaging 12 points per game in his 27 minutes a night, but is shooting 38 percent from the floor and averaging just three assists.
Walker and Murray have had good moments in Orlando, but have not been as impressive as expected. The emergence of Keldon Johnson has masked their struggles, but for the Spurs to truly have an opportunity to make it into the play-in games and potentially the playoffs, they’ll need more from two of their young cornerstones.
The game against the Jazz is the perfect opportunity for them to snap out of their funk. Walker could have a chance to show off his defensive chops on Joe Ingles, his likely matchup, and could look to run against an opponent that was very turnover prone even with its usual lineups. Murray could remind everyone why he made an All-Defense team by putting the clamps on either Clarkson or Mudiay and will hopefully take a more active role in the offense instead of fading into the background. The Spurs finally have some margin pf error, so the two young guys could take advantage of the potential lack of pressure of the matchup to get themselves back on track.
The Spurs’ depth needs to be the difference
Despite losing two starters before the start of the bubble, the Spurs have managed to continue to have a very impressive second unit. Even with Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White not coming off the bench anymore, San Antonio has gotten the second most points from its subs in the league over the past four games, trailing only the Nets.
The bench needs to be a strength against every opponent, but could be crucial on Friday. The starters should have the edge against Utah’s, but where the Spurs could really make a big difference and potentially close the game out early is when the subs check in. It’s unclear whether Patty Mills will continue to play now that Marco Belinelli is back, but even if just one of the veteran guards suits up San Antonio will have plenty of firepower and energy off the bench, as Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson and Drew Eubanks will all be active. The Jazz, meanwhile, will have to rely on the over-the-hill Davis and some extremely unproven youngsters to give their starters a break.
In the ideal scenario for this game, the Spurs not only get the win but also do so without having to play their starters heavy minutes. If the bench performs as it has so far in Orlando, that’s a real possibility.
For the Jazz fans’ perspective, visit SLC Dunk.
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