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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks

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The Silver and Black return to the AT&T Center for the first contest of a brief two-game homestand.

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

San Antonio fell victim to the white-hot Warriors in the finale of their two-game West Coast road trip on Wednesday, suffering their second 21-point loss of the season after routing the Blazers by as many points two nights prior. Steph Curry looked every part of a former two-time MVP, and while his supporting cast has changed drastically over the years, Golden State played like the dynasty that dominated the NBA for a half-decade.

The Silver and Black received an admirable two-way effort from Dejounte Murray, who racked up 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 29 minutes, but the rest of the roster did little to mitigate the damage. Curry was cooking from beyond the arc, though San Antonio’s inability to hold James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, and Kelly Ourbre Jr. in check was what ultimately brought about their demise.

Head coach Gregg Popovich and the 8-7 San Antonio Spurs will have a chance to get back on track when Luka Doncic and the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks come to town for a divisional matchup. The good guys are a paltry 2-4 at the AT&T Center early into the season, but meetings with their interstate rival always seem to inspire them into playing at another competitive gear.

San Antonio Spurs (8-7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7-7)

January 22, 2021 | 7:30 PM CST

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Quinndary Weatherspoon (Out — Questionable), Derrick White (Out — Toe), Drew Eubanks (Out — COVID Protocol), Keita Bates-Diop (Out — Illness)

Mavericks Injuries: Dorian Finney-Smith (Out — COVID Protocol), Josh Richardson (Out — COVID Protocol), Maxi Kleber (Out — COVID Protocol), Dwight Powell (Out — COVID Protocol)

Locking Down Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic is on the brink of becoming the third player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a singular season, and he’s giving an absolute masterclass in distributing the basketball while scoring at an equally prolific pace. The 21-year-old guard is already a bonafide MVP candidate in just his third go-round in the league, and as is the case with any opposing superstar, slowing them down is the key to stopping their team.

The Mavericks are 6-4 when Doncic scores at least 20 points and 1-3 when he fails to reach that mark. Luka is the engine of their offense, and he’s more integral to Dallas than ever before after moving on from Seth Curry, Delon Wright, and Justin Jackson this offseason. And the potential absences of Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Richardson, Maxi Kleber, and Dwight Powell could place even more responsibility on his shoulders.

Of course, the recent return of Kristaps Porzingis gives Luka another All-Star caliber player to lean on, though the towering stretch-five hasn’t quite recaptured his pre-injury form. With that said, athletic big men have burned San Antonio time and time again throughout the early parts of their schedule, and Kristaps adds another troubling two-way dynamic with his combination of shot-blocking and three-point shooting.

Protecting the Perimeter

The Silver and Black have allowed their opponents to shoot the fourth-highest three-point percentage (38.8%) in the NBA this season, and that number is an improvement from where they were a few games ago. Their poor perimeter defense was on display when the Warriors lit them up for 15 triples on Wednesday. And Dallas is another below-average beyond the arc team who could punish the Spurs if given enough daylight.

Coach Carlisle and crew are attempting the eighth-most long-range shots per game (37.6 3PA) this season, and despite their bottom-five success rate (33.5%), they have too many proven shooters to maintain that sort of inefficiency. Trey Burke, Jalen Brunson, and Tim Hardway Jr. are liable to catch fire from deep, and Doncic and Porzingis only need to nail one or two jumpers to get themselves in an unbreakable rhythm.

Opponents always seem to transform their pronounced weaknesses into their greatest strengths when they face San Antonio, and ball clubs laden with sub-par shooters have looked more like rosters full of three-point contestants on numerous occasions. We can point to Golden State, Minnesota, and Houston and call them outliers performances, but how many outliers can you concede before it becomes the norm?

Inconsistency Across the Roster

Inconsistency has been one of the defining characteristics of the 2020-2021 Spurs thus far. And perhaps this variance comes with the territory of being the youngest team of the Gregg Popovich era. Regardless, it’s been incredibly frustrating to witness San Antonio knock off the reigning champion Lakers one night and lose to a pair of shorthanded Western Conference bottom-dwellers a few days later.

A total dud against the Warriors following an utter dismantling of the Blazers perfectly encapsulates their maddening inconsistency. And this dilemma has mostly been driven by players who have struggled to adjust to their new roles. Lonnie Walker IV and LaMarcus Aldridge have been the most notable wildcards on the roster, going off for 20-plus points and then disappearing for extended periods the next time out.

Seeing as they’re both guys who are most engaged and effective with the ball in their hands, their struggles aren’t entirely unexpected on a roster full of players who command several touches. Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray, and Keldon Johnson have also been sporadic on occasion. This franchise is understandably a work in progress, so be patient while they’re figuring things out.