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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans

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Can the Silver and Black piece together a new winning streak in their third SEGABABA of the season?

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio blew out the severely shorthanded Wizards behind an all-around effort that saw seven separate Spurs score in double digits. While the good guys headed into halftime with just a one-point cushion over a team that hadn’t played a game in nearly two weeks due to health and safety protocols, they managed to pull away from Washington behind a superb second-half effort.

Patty Mills paced the Silver and Black in scoring with 21 points, followed by 16 points from Lonnie Walker IV, 15 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, and a career-high 14 points from Devin Vassell. Keldon Johnson and Rudy Gay chipped in 13 points apiece, and Dejounte Murray joined an exclusive list of some of the NBA’s premier superstars with his second triple-double of the young season.

The Spurs now have a little more than 24 hours to pack up, hit the road, and head east for New Orleans as they prepare for a meeting with Zion Williamson and the Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in the second leg of a back-to-back. San Antonio is an astounding 6-3 outside of the familiar walls of the AT&T Center, and they’ll hope to head back home a few games above .500.

San Antonio Spurs (9-8) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (5-10)

January 25, 2021 | 8:00 PM CST

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Quinndary Weatherspoon (Questionable — Knee), Derrick White (Out — Toe), Drew Eubanks (Out — COVID Protocols), Dejounte Murray (Ankle — Questionable)

Pelicans Injuries: None

Stopping Zion and Ingram

Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are unquestionably one of the best young duos in the NBA, but unfortunately for the Pelicans, all that talent hasn’t amounted to much success. And following the massive turnover necessary to acquire Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe this offseason, the roster has failed to mesh consistently despite returning Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

The previously mentioned tandem leads New Orleans in scoring with 23.4 and 23.3 points per game, respectively, and slowing that pair down is the key to halting a pedestrian offense. And their colossal drop off in scoring production from their third option combined with a bottom three ranking in three-point makes, attempts, and percentage have led to an awkward and unusual brand of basketball.

Williamson may only be six-foot-seven, but that hasn’t stopped the 284-pound human bowling ball from taking 95.1% of all his shots from inside the paint this season. And with the majority of his points coming at the rim, San Antonio should have the upper hand in this matchup seeing as they’ve held their opponents to the fifth-lowest restricted area field goal in the NBA thus far.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, Lonnie Walker IV and Rudy Gay might be the best answer for stopping Brandon Ingram. Lonnie and Gay bothered the All-Star forward, forcing him into tough looks and ultimately coming together to hold him to a putrid 4-of-16 performance from the field. New Orleans still ended the evening victorious, though that was primarily on behalf of San Antonio’s tired legs and poor shooting.

Playing the Percentages

Playing to your strengths and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses is the easiest way to win a game, but you don’t need to be a molecular physicist to reach that conclusion. The challenge lies in identifying how to take advantage of those vulnerabilities and negate your flaws. And when the organization on the opposite end of the court is planning to do the same, it’s never an easy task to come away with the upper hand.

So how can the Spurs one-up the team that narrowly defeated them last time they met? Well, while it’s probably not as uncomplicated as finding a few statistical shortcomings, San Antonio has a few factors to mull over. New Orleans is simultaneously home to perhaps the stingiest interior and worst three-point defense in the league, which leaves coach Popovich with a unique opportunity to play an extreme game of percentages.

The Pelicans give up a league-high 41.9 three-point attempts per game at a 38.8% clip, and though the trifecta hasn’t been a significant plus for the Spurs up to this point, their 36.5% success rate from long range ranks 13th in the NBA. And considering New Orleans concedes the fewest shots inside the arc and San Antonio sports the second-worst efficiency at the rim, it wouldn’t be insane for them to lean on their best floor spacers.