The Spurs have continued floundering down the stretch of close contests this season, and as a result, slipped further down the Western Conference standings and into 13th place. San Antonio desperately needs to turn their fortunes around soon if they want to avoid falling into an insuperable hole, and they’ll have a perfect opportunity to do so as they host the Kings on Wednesday night to kick off a two-game homestand.
Sacramento sits just 1.5 games ahead of the Silver and Black heading into this matchup, but the good guys shouldn’t underestimate their chronically dysfunctional opponent. Luke Walton has his Northern California ball club playing well on both ends of the floor right now despite a shaky start from De’Aaron Fox. And veteran combo forward Harrison Barnes has emerged as a surprise star who teams can’t afford to overlook.
San Antonio Spurs (3-7) vs. Sacramento Kings (5-6)
November 10, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: CW35 | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Devontae Cacok (Out — Two Way), Joe Wieskamp (Out — Two Way), Josh Primo (Out — On Assignment), Jakob Poeltl (Out — COVID Protocols), Keita Bates-Diop (Questionable — Back)
Kings Injuries: Robert Woodard II (Game Time Decision — Hamstring), Tyrese Haliburton (Game Time Decision — Back), Terence David (Game Time Decision — Ankle)
Keeping the Kings off the Line
Earning a couple of free throws can be hugely advantageous for a myriad of reasons. Not only is it arguably the easiest way to put up points on the scoreboard at virtually every level of competitive basketball, but it gives players a chance to catch their breath and recollect themselves mentally while momentarily stifling their opponent’s momentum.
So far, the Kings have been one of the best teams at getting to the charity stripe, tying the New York Knicks for the fourth-most attempts in the NBA (22.1 FTA). Although making frequent stops at the line hasn’t transformed Sacramento into a formidable offensive force by any means, they are 3-1 when they attempt at least 25 free throws and 2-5 when they don’t.
San Antonio owns the third-lowest foul rate in the league (17.1 PF), which has resulted in them sending their opponent to the line just 12.7 times per game this season. Playing disciplined defense has always been a hallmark of the Spurs throughout the Gregg Popovich era, and as long as they can refrain from hacking Sactown, they should have a shot to win.
Winning the Battle in the Paint
Of course, trying not to send the Kings to the charity stripe can’t be San Antonio’s only game plan on Wednesday. Sacramento is also astonishingly proficient at procuring offense around the basket, scoring the tenth-most points in the paint (48.0 PPG) and averaging the fourth-most non-rim shot attempts inside the key (20.4 FGA).
Despite protecting the rim reasonably well through their first ten contests, the Spurs have struggled to secure the free throw lane, especially without Jakob Poeltl anchoring the interior. San Antonio’s opponents are shooting a whopping 5.5% above league average in the paint, which is a significant reason why they’ve allowed the fifth-most points from that zone.
That said, Sacramento faces a similar problem when they come to town. The Silver and Black lead the NBA in points in the paint, and the Kings let their opponents shoot 3.5% above league average. Both teams have made a living on short attempts, and whoever comes out on top from inside the paint could very well walk away with a dub.
Lending Dejounte a Helping Hand
Dejounte Murray leads the Spurs in total touches, shots, passes, assists, rebounds, points, steals, deflections, and minutes. The sixth-year guard has done everything within his power to keep this squad afloat, but San Antonio needs someone else to step up and provide him with consistent support if they want to win games.
Before the season started, Derrick White seemed like a likely candidate to play second fiddle to Dejounte. And while the former Colorado Buffalo has undeniably been one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, White has been erratic on the other end, averaging 12.3 points per game on less than ideal 39/32/76 shooting splits.
Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV were also supposed to take leaps in their development with more opportunities, but thus far, they’ve mostly resembled the players they were a year ago. For as admirably as Murray has performed as the de facto go-to guy, he can’t carry the Spurs over the hump all by himself.
Luckily for San Antonio, De’Aaron Fox has come out of the gates slow, but that could change in the blink of an eye. Even if Sacramento’s prized point guard can’t snap his cold spell, Harrison Barnes has put himself in the All-Star conversation behind his 22.5 points and 8.7 boards per game. Don’t forget about Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, or Richaun Holmes either.
For the Kings fans’ perspective, please visit Sactown Royalty.
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.