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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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The streaking Spurs gear up for a double-header against an old rival.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Another game preview, another Spurs winning streak. It seems like every time the Silver and Black build up a head of steam, I draw the matchup that ultimately ends it, so let’s hope that for once that that isn’t the case. San Antonio roars into this matchup tied for its longest winning streak of the season, and has a chance to go on their first 4+ game winning streak since . . . March of the 2018-2019 season.

And while I know that lengthy winning streaks are something that Popovich and Co. have been loathe to celebrate in the past, a couple more consecutive wins would feel like a big step for a young team that for all points and purposes seems to finally be building up a full head of steam.

Thankfully the Spurs next three contests come against a Covid-19 and injury-stricken Memphis team that looks to be down at least five players for both contests, and the eternally-suffering Minnesota Timberwolves. San Antonio can’t look past these contests though in order to build on the progress they’ve been making, especially since playing down to competition is what separates teams with losing records from the teams with winning records. And if San Antonio wants to make a return to being the latter as opposed to the former, it’s a very real possibility that it will need to start during their current stretch of basketball.

Don’t get me wrong, after winning games against the Celtics and Nuggets, this team deserves to be confident coming in with such obvious advantages, but losing to teams like these are how you end up narrowly missing the postseason, and hot streak aside, these Spurs may not have much of a margin for error in an ailing yet still fearsome Western Conference.

Memphis Grizzlies (7-6) at San Antonio Spurs (10-8)

January 29, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Questionable)

Grizzlies Injuries: Jaren Jackson Jr - Out (Knee), Justice Winslow - Out (Hip), Jonas Valanciunas - Out (Covid-19 Protocols), Grayson Allen - Out (Covid-19 Protocols), Jontay Porter - Out (Knee), Killian Tillie (Day-to-Day), Sean McDermott (Day-to-Day)

What to watch for:

  • Winning Big via the Bigs: The Grizzlies will be dealing with a number of absences in this one, but the most glaring ones will be that of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas. And while the wunderkind skills of Jackson are all but irreplaceable, it’s easy to forget that Valanciunas is currently leading the team in rebounds, blocks, and serving as its third leading scorer. The Grizzlies have had terrible injury luck this season, with Jackson, Morant and Winslow all out for extended stretches, but the Spurs can’t afford any sympathy. In order to negate the whirling dervish that is Ja Morant, San Antonio will need to make the Grizzlies pay down low. With Memphis missing their two best rim protectors, there will be no excuse for all of the Spurs to take it to the rim with regularity, but this goes doubly so LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl. San Antonio will win this one going away if they can exploit this advantage, but this could end up as a tight contest if they don’t.
  • Signs of Defensive Consistency: On the other hand, San Antonio could turn this game into a rout if they manage to continue their current run of positive defensive play. One of the weaknesses of the Spurs teams of late (and even this season) has been a tendency to relax against mediocre teams and let under-performing squads set season high shooting percentages. Memphis is currently sporting the league’s second best defensive rating, but if San Antonio’s defense allows the Grizzlies to shoot better than their current 33.3% conversion rate (2nd worst in the league), Memphis is still capable of clamping down on the other end and making a game of it, as they have in the past.
  • Forcing Ja Morant To Do It All: In that same vein, even the lengthy guards of the San Antonio defense are going to have their hands full with Morant. Morant very memorably dropped 44 points on the Spurs in the season opener. He hasn’t been the quite same since missing games due to a bad ankle sprain, but he’s still capable of going off if he can penetrate the perimeter and exploits any San Antonio big not named Poeltl. A player with Morant’s speed and vision is a perfect test for San Antonio’s defensive rotations, but if they can at least cut off his passing lanes, Morant will be forced to rely on a wobbly ankle and helter-skelter drives into the heart of the Spurs’ defense. It’s easy to remember that Morant was a scoring machine in their last matchup, but it’s just as easy to forget that San Antonio won that game going away once Morant was forced to serve as the only scoring option.

For the Grizzlies’ fans’ perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.

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.