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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves

Can the Silver and Black extend their winning streak as they head into the penultimate matchup of their five-game Western Conference road trip?

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs survived their first overtime outing of the 2020-2021 season, taking down the Minnesota Timberwolves to secure their third straight victory and remain undefeated on their five-game Western Conference road trip. It was far from San Antonio’s prettiest performance, but they cleaned up their act down the stretch and made a handful of clutch plays to spoil the return of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Perimeter defense was once again a glaring issue for the Silver and Black as they allowed the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA to knock 15 triples at a 50% clip. Take one look at the tape, and you’ll find at least a third of those trifectas came on prayers at the buzzer or near the end of the shot clock. Regardless, Coach Popovich is unlikely to make excuses or give any of his guys a free pass.

Luckily for San Antonio, they’ll get an opportunity to prove Minnesota’s long-range success was a fluke when they return to the Target Center at the same time tonight for a rematch with KAT and the rest of his bright-eyed crew. DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and Patty Mills combined for 81 points on Friday, so don’t be surprised if they have another field day with the Wolves’ inexperienced defenders.

San Antonio Spurs (5-4) at Minnesota Timberwolves (2-7)

January 10, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Out — Toe), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Out — Knee), Drew Eubanks (Out — COVID Protocol)

Timberwolves Injuries: Josh Okogie (Out — Hamstring)

Testing Out a Theory

It sometimes seems as though San Antonio consistently allows teams with distinct weaknesses to excel at said weaknesses when they face the Spurs. And while it could just be my confirmation bias hard at work, it’s hard to ignore the good guys giving up 15 threes on 50% shooting to a T-Wolves squad that had knocked down a league-worst 31.9% of their long-distance looks coming into the contest.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Minnesota had several desperation attempts that miraculously fell through the net. And Naz Reid, a career 33% shooter from beyond the arc, nailed a season-high three triples on four tries. Was this simply a happenstance that will coincide with a natural regression, or are the Silver and Black daring opponents to embrace their offensive vulnerabilities?

Perhaps it’s neither, and San Antonio is merely failing to execute their game plan on a semi-regular basis. Whatever the case may be, we’ll have a chance to observe what corrections, if any, the Spurs make when they run it back with the Timberwolves tonight. With that in mind, it’s worth noting they’ve conceded the highest three-point percentage in the NBA this season, which isn’t an encouraging sign.

Attacking Favorable Matchups

The Minnesota Timberwolves are the youngest team in the NBA this season, and youth and inexperience is a combination that often results in an unbalanced record that leans heavily towards the loss column. First, second, and third-year players are bound to be out of position on the defensive end and erratic on the other, and growing pains and slumps multiply two-fold without veterans to show them the ropes.

The Spurs are no longer the elder statesmen of the association. And while this may be the youngest team Gregg Popovich has ever coached, they have just enough veteran savvy to exploit the flaws of an unseasoned club. Patty Mills got himself open and sent unsuspecting defenders up in the air with subtle pump fakes, and DeMar DeRozan followed suit, outsmarting his man and getting to the free-throw line 13 times.

Even Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson showed the patience to let plays develop, making smart decisions and hitting open teammates for easy buckets. The duo combined for 39 points, 23 rebounds, and eight assists, and San Antonio will need more of the same from them in their second go-round versus Minnesota. And their defensive contributions will be just as indispensable.

As long as Lonnie Walker IV, Devin Vassell, and the previously discussed pairs can lock down on D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Ricky Rubio, and number one overall pick Anthony Edwards, the Silver and Black should have no trouble handing the Timberwolves their eighth consecutive loss. Karl-Anthony Towns provided Minny a much-needed boost in his return, but he can’t shoulder the load alone, especially in a back-to-back.

For the opponents’ perspective, please visit Canis Hoopus.

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.