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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz

Can the Silver and Black get off on the right foot as they begin a four-game Western Conference road trip?

Utah Jazz v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs saw their lengthy homestand come to an unhappy end as the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets hosted a merciless three-point party inside the AT&T Center on Wednesday night. They must now shake off their blowout loss and regroup to face the third-place Jazz in the first matchup of a four-game Western Conference road trip.

Donovan Mitchell and company have quietly put together one of the best teams in the NBA, excelling on both ends as Rudy Gobert has built a case for more Defensive Player of the Year hardware. Meanwhile, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, and newcomers Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gay have formed a formidable supporting cast.

San Antonio Spurs (10-17) @ Utah Jazz (20-7)

December 17, 2021 | 8:00 PM CT

Watch: KENS | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Josh Primo (Out — On Assignment), Joe Wieskamp (Out — Two Way), Devontae Cacok (Out — Two Way), Lonnie Walker IV (Questionable — Gastroenteritis)

Jazz Injuries: Udoka Azubuike (Out — Ankle), Jared Butler (Game Time Decision — Knee), Elijah Hughes (Out — On Assignment), Malik Fitts (Out — Two Way)

What To Watch For

  • Utah enters this matchup on an eight-game winning streak, and while the Warriors, Suns, and Nets have kept them from being the talk of most NBA circles, they should undoubtedly be in the title contention conversation. The Jazz own the best offensive rating and fifth-best defensive rating in the league, which puts them in outstanding company as they pursue their first ring in franchise history. All but three champions since 2005 have sported a top-ten rating on both sides of the court, with the 2010 Lakers, 2020 Lakers, and 2018 Warriors narrowly missing the threshold. The Silver and Black have knocked off a couple of unsuspecting opponents, though head coach Quin Snyder and crew have outscored their competition by an average margin of 16.1 points per game over their last 14 outings. To make matters worse, San Antonio must leave the familiar confines of the AT&T Center for this matchup, and they are just 4-8 on the road this season.
  • The Silver and Black have attempted the fewest three-pointers per game (28.9 3PA) in the NBA this season, and it should come as no surprise they have been outscored by a league-worst 228 points from beyond the arc. Their low-volume long-range attack combined with middling accuracy is one of the reasons they must execute their game plan to near perfection almost every night if they hope to pick up a victory. Because San Antonio is so adept at cutting down on turnovers, moving the basketball, picking their spots, and scoring in transition, they have rarely found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout. That said, simply following the usual X’s and O’s might not be enough to thwart the Jazz. Not only does Utah take (42.6 3PA) more triples than anyone in the association, but they are home to the best three-point percentage (42.1%) by a sizable gap. Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gay all shoot at least 40% from downtown, and the Spurs can’t afford to lose track of Utah’s many marksmen. San Antonio is coming off one of their worst nights as a perimeter defense. And while Charlotte hitting an unreal 52.9% of their trifectas undoubtedly played into a disappointing end to an otherwise successful five-game homestand, the Spurs will need more than just a little luck on their side when they travel to Salt Lake City.
  • Only three clubs have seen more midrange attempts per game from their opponents than the Jazz this season, a number that makes a ton of sense once you consider Rudy Gobert patrols the paint. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is the anchor for everything Utah does on this end of the hardwood. The towering Frenchman could give Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson cause for pause before they drive into the interior, which might become somewhat problematic if they instead settle for midrange looks. The Spurs have recently started shifting their shot profile away from the in-between game, though they may not have a choice but to lean on those types of jumpers if Gobert forces them away from the rim. Dejounte and Derrick are only a smidge above league-average (40.6%) from that range, and Keldon Johnson hasn’t been much of a pullup or spot-up shooter from inside the arc. San Antonio should do everything in their power to find a way to get Gobert into foul trouble or draw him away from the tin. If they don’t, the good guys and their subpar halfcourt offense are in for a long night.
  • Donovan Mitchell has been one of the most talented young scorers since he entered the league in 2017. This season, the 25-year-old combo guard has taken another developmental leap, raising his efficiency from virtually every part of the court on his way to a career-high 46.1% shooting. At 24.8 points per game, the two-time All-Star is the driving force behind the best offense in the NBA, and he generates ample space for his teammates with how much defensive attention he draws. Despite a solid supporting cast of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz often flounder when their go-to option struggles from the field, and they are winless when Mitchell shoots less than 35%. The Spurs have the resources to pester Spida for 48 minutes, and Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Devin Vassell, and Lonnie Walker IV should ensure there won’t be any easy buckets from the undersized swingman. If San Antonio’s stingy perimeter stoppers can funnel Mitchell into the paint by chasing him over screens, Jakob Poeltl is more than capable of altering shots at the rim.

For the Jazz fans’ perspective, please visit SLC Dunk.

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.