Coming into the second leg of the L.A. portion of their five game road-trip, the San Antonio Spurs are coming off of a tight but exhilarating win over Los Angeles’s other team. And while a victory over the team that ended the 2014-2015 squad’s run at back-to-back titles (as well as over The-Forward-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) is always nice, you can almost sense the growing hunger these young Spurs when it comes to taking a game from the defending NBA champions.
In two games so far, San Antonio has proven to be more of a thorn than anticipated, especially considering the issues with big man depth that the Silver and Black encountered in LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence. Both contests against the Lakers were closer than the final scores indicated, and if not for foul trouble and incredibly hot shooting from the Lakers in the first game, the margin of victory in both would likely have been less than ten points.
It’s certainly a victory that these young Spurs could use. Not just to bolster their big-game confidence and execution, but also in regards to the standings. Normally I wouldn’t be paying as much attention to that sort of thing this early, but in an abbreviated season these things have a habit of sneaking up on you if you don’t keep an eye out, and if everything continues to break the way it has thus far (spoiler: it won’t) San Antonio could end up anywhere in the standings between 7th and 11th place. (they’re currently sitting in 9th)
It can be challenging to know exactly what will happen in a rivalry series, particularly one with such an interesting history, but this fast-paced switchy version of the Spurs has proven to be more than capable of going toe to toe with Los Angeles and LeBron when they maintain their focus, so victory is far from out of the question.
San Antonio Spurs (3-4) at Los Angeles Lakers (6-2)
January 7, 2021 | 9:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Out - Fractured Toe), Quindarry Weatherspoon (Out- Knee)
Lakers Injuries: None
What to watch for:
- The Perils of Foul Trouble: Even with LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup, San Antonio will likely spend the rest of the season living on the razor’s edge when it comes to big man depth. For all his energy, Drew Eubanks isn’t well-suited to playing for long stretches and Trey Lyles has played with all the solidity of a disinterested poltergeist. This means that the Spurs really only have two centers who are playable against teams that have the kind of size that the Lakers do. After that it’s a pauper’s stew of Eubanks, Lyles, and the incredibly undersized Rudy Gay. The Spurs bigs (and especially Jakob Poeltl) will need to defend well and stay squeaky clean in order to have more than a passing chance in this one.
- Good Dejounte, Bad Dejounte: It’s become hip to rag on Dejounte Murray when has a bad game and then overpraise him when he has a good one, but the reality is that this team finds another gear when Murray is firing on all cylinders, and struggles to consistently execute offensively when he’s not. It’s no coincidence that the Spurs are 3-1 so far in games where Murray tallies more than ten points and five assists (and four turnovers or less). And while the singularity of that burden is likely to be great reduced once Derrick White returns, this is a crucial period for San Antonio, not just when it comes to taking advantage of the slow starts and injuries of other playoff hopefuls, but in also when it comes to finding out if Murray is indeed capable of consistently functioning as their point guard of the future.
- Signs of Defensive Gelling: After getting absolutely shellacked by the Jazz, San Antonio’s defense improved somewhat against the Clippers. The Spurs have struggled with defensive consistency so far (something that makes perfect sense in the context of White, Johnson, and Aldridge’s absences), but while their interior issues have largely been the result of depth, the perimeter woes seem to have been driven by a lack of communication. Make no mistake, there are a number of Spurs (Walker, Johnson, and Vassell) who are still acclimating to the reality of more playing time than they’ve ever at had this level, but in the modern NBA a bad (or even inconsistent) perimeter defense is usually the kiss of death. And while Gregg Popovich certainly has more to work with than last season (LOL, remember Marco Belinelli?), he’s going to have to do everything he can to get this unit on the same page quickly, especially against a Lakers team that is just as capable of doing to San Antonio exactly what the Jazz did earlier in the week.
- Keldon Heckin’ Johnson: If you haven’t been paying attention to Keldon Johnson, I don’t know what to tell you. The kid is a whirling dervish of destruction on a nightly basis, wreaking havok around the rim against even the best players in the league on both sides of the court. Watching him defend and drive on LeBron James in spite of a four inch and thirty-five pound difference in size was nothing short of awe-inspiring in their last two match-ups and it’s almost certain he’ll draw that assignment again. Physically, it’s far from ideal, but you wouldn’t know that watching Johnson charge at James with all the ferocity of a solo bayonet charge. 10/10 would recommend tuning in to this one.
Keldon Johnson stop Anthony Davis on one end and jams on Lebron James on the other: pic.twitter.com/nj2RRJiRhs— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) December 31, 2020
For the Lakers fans’ perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.
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.