San Antonio is 11-9 after what was supposed to be the first 21 games of their schedule until COVID-19 contact tracing halted their matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans. Although the Spurs aren’t the only ones who have been affected by the newly instated health and safety protocols this season, they are one of the few organizations around the league yet to see multiple postponements.
While the Silver and Black started the year exhibiting a frustrating tendency to play down to lesser competition, they’ve since recovered monumentally. Head coach Gregg Popovich and company have put away a handful of shorthanded foes, knocked off a pair of title contenders in the Nuggets and Celtics, and kept it close in all but one blow out loss to the white-hot Warriors.
Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker IV are drawing praise from writers around the league. FIBA Patty is making a darkhorse run at Sixth Man of the Year, and DeMar DeRozan is well on his way to the fifth All-Star nod of his career. There are plenty of positives to go around, and the good guys finally have a clean bill of health for the first time in more than a year.
This rendition of the Spurs has been a blast, but they’re doing more than just producing a viewer-friendly brand of hoops. San Antonio is translating their small-ball strategery into on-court success, and they have won three of their last four outings. A favorable ten-game slate might afford them a chance to hold onto playoff aspirations, so let’s jump into the opponents that lie ahead.
The Grizzlies might still be without a couple of essential rotational players in Grayson Allen and Jonas Valanciunas. And Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justice Winslow have yet to make their season debuts for Memphis.
Ja Morant is playing like an All-Star in his second go-round season in the NBA, and Memphis extended their winning streak to six games after handily defeating the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.
The ragtag bunch of Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Xavier Tillman, De’Anthony Melton, Tyus Jones, Kyle Anderson, and Desmond Bane have helped keep Grind City afloat, so don’t write this one down as an automatic win.
Feb 3: San Antonio Spurs vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Although the Spurs split a tightly contested back-to-back with Minnesota last time they met, San Antonio should have no trouble dispatching the T-Wolves when they visit the AT&T Center for the first time his season.
A litany of injuries and contact tracing issues have marred Karl-Anthony Towns and crew early on. And to be quite honest, they were never in a prime position to be competitive on a nightly basis as constructed.
While D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley have added a bit of flair to this last-place squad, it’ll be tough for head coach Ryan Saunders to steer his club away from another trip to the lottery.
Feb 6: San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets
The Silver and Black also split a mid-season series with a less than half strength Houston organization a few weeks back, but their initial loss to the eight-man Rockets seemed to be a turning point for their mentality.
Up until that point, San Antonio had regularly played down to the level of their competition. Since then, they have taken care of business against the short-handed Trail Blazers and bottom-dwelling Wizards.
The Rockets have overachieved to the tune of a 5-3 record since shipping James Harden across conferences, and their 103.4 Defensive Rating is second-best in the NBA over that period. Strap in for another nail-biter.
Feb 8: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry and the unrecognizable Warriors blew out San Antonio in round one earlier this season. And they put on a three-point shooting clinic reminiscent of the days their dynasty once dominated the league.
Despite their success beyond the arc versus the Spurs, Golden State has been among the least efficient teams from long-range. Let’s hope their supporting cast regresses to the mean in the opener of this miniseries.
Even if the Dubs go cold from the perimeter, the good guys will still have to find an answer for shutting down James Wiseman. The rookie torched our guys last time, and they’ve had trouble containing athletic big men.
Feb 9: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
We discussed how back-to-backs typically favor younger teams in my previous ten-game preview, and while a casual fan might believe San Antonio is old and boring, this is the youngest club of the Popovich era.
Of course, veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills play a significant part in the nightly game plan. But the lesser experienced Spurs are pulling their fair share of the weight too.
Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell are all under 25-year-old. And though Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl don’t fit into that category, they still play their tails off on both ends.
Feb 12: San Antonio Spurs @ Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks may be a disappointment after all their big-name offseason additions, but Atlanta is far from being the total embarrassment they once were. And at 10-9, they occupy the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce has struggled to get Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, and Khris Dunn integrated and acclimated. And injuries haven’t made his job any easier.
This squad is unquestionably talented enough to do some legitimate damage if they ever get on the same page, so let keep our fingers crossed that they don’t figure things out before their date with the Spurs.
Feb 14: San Antonio Spurs @ Charlotte Hornets
While the Hornets were on my list of sure-fire lottery-locks heading into the season, former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego has this group overachieving through an utterly brutal first quarter of their schedule.
Charlotte lays claim to the second-youngest roster (average age 24) in the NBA. Yet they dish out a league-leading 28.3 assists per game and commit an uncharacteristically low 18.1 personal fouls per game (27th).
An 8-11 record isn’t exactly something to write home about. That said, the Hornets are turning heads behind the steady veteran presence of Gordon Hayward and the otherworldy passing of a wildly amusing LaMelo Ball.
Feb 16: San Antonio Spurs @ Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are a terrible basketball team. And the sudden emergence of seventh-year combo forward Jerami Grant has been one of the few silver linings for Detroit outside of the possibility of winning the first overall pick.
There is little doubt in my mind that their front office hit the reset button a year ago when they traded away two-time All-Star Andre Drummond for Brandon Knight, John Henson, and a 2023 second-round selection.
Detroit appears committed to a rebuild. Their young core of Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Sekou Doumbouya isn’t ready to contribute to winning, and Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are shells of their former selves.
Feb 17: San Antonio Spurs @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Whereas the Pistons are in the early stages of rebuilding, the seventh-place Cavaliers look poised to make a playoff appearance in 2021. They aren’t a finished product, but they have a few promising pieces in place.
Rumors of an Andre Drummond buyout may derail their momentum, but they acquired a potential replacement in Jarrett Allen via trade a few weeks ago. And they also received a revitalized Taurean Prince in the process.
Collin Sexton is playing like a perennial All-Star, Darius Garland is starting to live up to expectations of being the fifth overall pick, and Larry Nance Jr. is in the midst of a two-way renaissance. Don’t sleep on the Cavs.
Feb 20: San Antonio Spurs @ New York Knicks
The Knicks have been better than advertised thus far in large part due to the stellar play of a Julius Randle, whose 22.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, and six assists per game have him vying for his first All-Star appearance.
New York has also received a helping hand from Elfrid Payton, Austin Rivers, Reggie Bullock, and Nerlens Noel. And RJ Barrett is taking off as a scorer and playmaker in year two after an inconsistent rookie campaign.
This matchup will be San Antonio’s fifth-straight contest away from the AT&T Center in what appears to be the replacement of their perennial Rodeo Road Trip, so don’t be shocked if you see signs of travel fatigue.
Record: 7-3 (18-12 Overall)