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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The Spurs look to close down the Staples Center as an early Christmas gift

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s the holiday season, so hoop-de-do. And the Silver and Black will look to do just that, waltzing in off of another win over a likely Western Conference playoff seed, and into a pre-Christmas match-up against a Lakers squad that they haven’t been able to figure out despite playing a pair of close games against them.

There’s a bit of deja vu here, as the Spurs will once again be facing a team that is Covid-depleted, as well well as missing one of their best players in Anthony Davis due to an MCL sprain. And if that doesn’t set your alarm bells ringing, well, you must have missed the games against Charlotte and Sacramento, both teams who were similarly depleted, and then consequently ran the Spurs ragged.

It doesn’t help that these Lakers are a bit of a paradox as a team, coming into this contest 27th in offensive rating, but 9th in defensive rating, and sporting a negative net rating.

Certainly the Lakers have dealt with a lot of injury-rated issues, as older teams are wont to do, but this is a big team (tied for 5th in starting lineup height) that only ranks 21st in rebound percentage, a turnover-prone team (2nd worst) that sits just outside the top 5 in steals (7th), and a team that’s great at drawing fouls (7th) but terrible at shooting them (3rd worst).

While the Spurs are largely statistically middling across the board, the Lakers are an exercise in extremes, ranking 3rd in fast-break points, 3rd in blocks, and 7th in field goals made. But also 25th in opponents fast-break points, 26th in assist-to-turnover ratio, and 27th in second-chance points.

Whatever the case, it’s important that the Spurs come out swinging in this one rather than with the energy level they’ve recently exhibited against Covid ravaged teams, because there’s just no telling which Lakers team will show up, especially with this game likely to be the last game played under the ‘Staples Center’ moniker before it officially becomes Crypto.com Arena.

I’d expect another close fight in this one. It’ll be an extra special holiday present if the Spurs manage to send off another Lakers mainstay by stealing a win from the Purple and Gold.

San Antonio Spurs (12-18) at Los Angeles Lakers (16-16)

December 23, 2021 | 9:30 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins - Out (Foot)

Lakers Injuries: Anthony Davis - Out (Knee), Kendrick Nunn - Out (Knee), Malik Monk - Questionable (Health and safety protocols), Avery Bradley - Doubtful (Health and safety protocols), Kent Bazemore - Doubtful (Health and safety protocols), Austin Reaves - Doubtful (Health and safety protocols)

What to watch for:

  • Jock Landale: Rising Backup - After a (physically) bumpy start to the season, and stint in Austin to get back into game shape, Landale appears to finally be getting some run as the first center off of the bench. After getting in for garbage time in games against New Orleans and Charlotte, Landale has tallied double-digit minutes in both of the last contests, and immediately showcased his ability to spread the floor. The sample size is small, but Landale is shooting 57% from three in the month of December, and his presence appears to have opened up the floor for a second unit that has struggle with spacing this season. It remains to be seen what he can do as a rebounder and rim protector, but he certainly seems worthy of the minutes for now.
  • Devin Vassell: Sophomore Slump(?) - One thing that might have gone unnoticed amidst all of the recent inconsistency, has been that Devin Vassell appears to be scuffling a little bit as of late, particularly from long-distance. And while these things are often varying in the course of the season, it’s worth noting that Vassell is shooting 27% from three and 43% from the field over the last ten games. The bench unit desperately needs for both Vassell and Walker to be on in order to keep pace with teams that often break even scoring-wise with the starters, so Devin finding his stroke as soon as possible will be important. The good news? Vassell has averaged 19 points on 48%/56% shooting this year against the Lakers.

For the Lakers’ fans’ perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll (or don’t)

PtR’s Game thread 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.