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Power Rankings, Week 2: The pesky Spurs are learning as they go

After being a nuisance but blowing two winnable games, the Spurs learned and finally put it all together to beat the Bucks.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs continued their gauntlet of an opening schedule in Week 2, following the same theme as Week 1. They faced three playoff-bound opponents that, unlike themselves, have stars and future/past MVPs. Against this superior talent, they impressed with their ability to hang tight and make the opponent fight until the bitter end against one of the “alleged” worst teams in the league, but they also disappointed in their inability to hold on to fourth quarter leads and close games strong — at least for the first two games.

Against a star-studded Lakers team that had been struggling to make their awkward conglomerate of current and former All-Stars work, the Spurs used a huge run at the end the third quarter to get out to a double-digit lead, but Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook (who was able to play his signature MVP style with LeBron James out) led the charge back to force OT and get the win, in no small part thanks to the Spurs inexplicably missing all seven of their fourth quarter free throws. Learning moments.

Next, in another rivalry game in Dallas, the Good Guys started the game strong and got out to a 23-3 lead, but complacency set in, the Mavericks bench got them right back into the game (perhaps flustering the young Spurs a bit), and the Mavs ultimately came out on top thanks to a big fourth quarter run led by their own star, Luka Doncic (who otherwise was held in check for most of the night). Learning moments.

Finally, after losing two games (and four straight overall) against playoff teams they just as easily could have won with fewer mistakes, they put it all together in their second matchup against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on the road. Despite being short-handed, they still had their MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo plus Khris Middletom, who had torched the Spurs in their first meeting. It was a low-scoring defensive affair (to the Spurs’ advantage), and this time they did what they had to do to win, taking a lead in the fourth quarter and not letting up. Coach Bud even tried Hack-a-Spurs (any Spur) in the hopes of repeating the Lakers outcome in the final minute, but they responded by going 5-6 from the line (and 7-8 overall in the fourth quarter) to seal the victory.

Lessons learned, and now it’s time for the Spurs to apply everything from their tough opening stretch in a more manageable one. If they keep playing like they have been, they could go at least 4-1 over the next fives games and move back into the winning column. If they do that, they will prove themselves to be a step ahead of last season’s squad that struggled against equal and inferior opponents in at least in one aspect. If they can do that, they will start rising up the standings (and power rankings) in short order.

Week 1: Despite starting the season an expected 1-2, the Young Spurs opened a new era showing off an exciting style of play and using defense to hang tight with superior teams.

Last Week: 1-2 (2-4 overall) — 121-125 (OT) L vs. Los Angeles Lakers; 99-104 L vs. Dallas Mavericks; 102-93 W vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Next Week: Mon. 11/1 @ Indiana Pacers (1-6); Wed. 11/3 vs. Dallas Mavericks (4-2); Fri. 11/5 @ Orlando Magic (1-6); Sun. 11/7 @ Oklahoma City Thunder

John Schuhmann, — 24 (Last week: 25)

Pace: 101.9 (9) OffRtg: 105.2 (16) DefRtg: 102.9 (10) NetRtg: +2.3 (13)

The Spurs haven’t seen a big jump in 3-point rate with the departure of DeMar DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean that their offense hasn’t changed quite a bit. They rank fourth in ball movement (356 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and first in player movement (12.4 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession) after ranking 29th and 16th last season. They assisted on 28 of their 39 field goals in Milwaukee on Saturday, though the two game-sealing buckets came with Dejounte Murray driving past Giannis Antetokounmpo and then draining a pull-up 3 over the Finals MVP.

Murray struggled with his shot through the Spurs’ first four games, but is 19-for-34 over the last two. He’s one of two players — Russell Westbrook is the other — averaging at least 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, also ranking fifth with 4.3 deflections per game. Unfortunately, he can’t play 48 minutes. The Spurs loss in overtime to the Lakers on Tuesday and by five points in Dallas on Thursday, getting outscored by 34 points in the 25:14 that Murray sat. Overall, they’ve been almost 25 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+9.8) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-15.1).

ESPN Staff — 24 (Last week: 24)

For the second time in his career, Dejounte Murray scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games, starting with a 21-point, 15-assist, 12-rebound effort in an overtime loss to the Lakers. While Murray’s usage rate (24.7%) is the highest of his career, his turnover rate is the second-lowest (10.4%), which is in line with his career best he set a season ago (10.2%). — Andrew Lopez

Rohan Nadkarni, Sports Illustrated — 24 (Last week: 25)

San Antonio finally stopped a four-game skid with a win over a wounded Bucks team. The Spurs’ losses have generally been close, though, a testament to the friskiness of this roster. What remains to be seen is if any of the young talent is capable of taking a serious leap.

Sporting News — 24 (Last week: 24)

The Spurs are going to be a pain to see on the schedule.

The Spurs may be in a rebuilding phase but they’re going to give you their best shot on any given night. Just ask the Lakers, who needed overtime to fend off the feisty young team in San Antonio.

Dejounte Murray has elevated his play now that he has the keys to the offence, recording a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds in that loss to the Lakers.

All four of the Spurs’ losses have been by 10 points or fewer.

From Friday:

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — 25 (last week: 23)

San Antonio kicks off its semi-rebuild with a 1-3 record, taking care of the Magic before losses to three top-tier teams in the Nuggets, Bucks and Lakers. The Spurs are shooting more 3-pointers than last season, but their percentage has dropped along the way. The offense has been widespread, with seven players averaging double figures thus far, led by Keldon Johnson’s 18.3 points per game. Dejounte Murray put up a massive triple-double with 21 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds in the loss to the Lakers, but he’s struggled shooting the ball to start the season.

Andy Bailey, Bleacher Report — 25 (last week: 25)

We probably should’ve expected the San Antonio Spurs to be pesky, regardless of who was on the roster. And they certainly have been, but pesky doesn’t always put tallies in the win column. And after starting Thursday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks with a 25-5 lead, the Spurs fell to 1-4.

It looks like San Antonio has several solid sixth or seventh men. Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White could probably start on certain teams, but there isn’t a single surefire star on this roster.

The infrastructure will make the Spurs competitive on most nights, as they were Thursday, but there doesn’t appear to be enough firepower for them to push any higher than the play-in tier.