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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans

On their fifth game in seven nights, the Spurs face a fellow up-and-coming team in the Pelicans.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no rest for the weary as the San Antonio Spurs are back on the court less that 24 hours after a blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets. Not only is the second game of a back-to-back, but it’s also their fifth game in seven nights. On the bright side, this is the fourth game of a five-game homestand, so there hasn’t been too much travel involved.

On the opposing bench will be fellow Southwest Division members, the New Orleans Pelicans, but don’t be deceived by the standings. The Pelicans may currently sit at the bottom of the West, but like the Spurs they have been finding their groove lately, winning five of their last nine games, most recently a blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday.

San Antonio Spurs (9-16) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8-20)

December 12, 2021 | 6:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports SW-SA | Listen: WOAI 1200 AM)

Spurs injuries: Zach Collins (Out — foot), Keldon Johnson (Probable — ankle)

Pelicans injuries: Zion Williamson (Out — foot), Kira Lewis (Out — knee), Daulton Hommes (Out — leg), Didi Louzada (Out — suspended)

What to watch for

  • While the Pelicans are still waiting for former top overall pick Zion Williamson to return from an offseason foot injury (and he’s close), Brandon Ingram is leading the charge with 22.7 ppg. While they aren’t a huge offensive threat — they sit just 26th in the league at scoring with 103.9 points per game — the real threat they represent to the Spurs in on the boards. Behind Jonas Valanciunas’ 11.9 rebounds, 3.4 on the offensive end, the Pelicans are fourth in league in offensive rebounds and 7th in second change points at 14.5 points per game. On the other end, the Spurs are a middling rebounding team, so it will take a team effort to keep the Pelicans off the glass and avoiding giving up too many second chance opportunities. More energy is spent on defense, so the last thing the Spurs need is to give to the more well rested team extra offensive possessions.
  • Speaking of Valanciunas, he has been a thorn in the Spurs’ side for a while now, and this season he’s averaging a career-high 18.9 points to go with all those rebounds. Due to his size and shooting range — he’s shooting 46.3% from three on 2.4 attempts per game — he’s one of the few centers in the league who is a true matchup problem for Jakob Poeltl, and the Spurs certainly don’t have a backup who would fare any better, so Poeltl will have to be on top of his game and stay out of foul trouble. The rest of the team will also need to be ready to rebound by committee, especially on possessions where Poeltl is drawn out of the paint on defense. The good news is the Pelicans lack much depth behind Valanciunas, so whether it’s Drew Eubanks or Thaddeus Young backing up Poeltl in this one, they’ll have a chance to take advantage when Valanciunas is on the bench.
  • One area where the Spurs will most certainly be at an advantage is off the bench. The Spurs are second in the league in points off the bench with 39.9 per game, led by Devin Vassell’s 11.5 and Lonnie Walker’s 10.1, while the Pelicans are 24th with 31 points per game and no regular bench player averaging in double figures. The Spurs’ bench also shoots much better from three and are a net positive for their team (albeit just barely), while the Pelicans lose about three points per game from their bench unit. The Spurs also have the depth to shake things up when needed, and because the Spurs will be on the second game of a back-to-back (and fifth in seven nights), any extra relief the bench can give the starters will be a huge plus.

For the Pelicans fans’ perspective, visit The Bird Writes.

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.