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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat

The Spurs look to weather the storm against the battered but savvy Heat

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, and welcome to yet another edition of ‘The Spurs versus a team missing a lot of players!’

And if that feels a bit like deja vu, rest assured that it’s not a glitch in the matrix, these have all been different teams. In fact, due to a recent surge in covid-related absences, six of the Spurs last eight games have been played against teams missing at least four players from their usual roster.

The twist in this contest is that only two of Miami’s players will actually be missing due to health and safety protocols. The rest are the result of plain old injuries. Boring, I know.

That being said, this is still a team that the Spurs will need to take seriously. In spite of various injuries cropping up throughout the season, the Heat still rank 7th in offensive rating, 7th in defensive rating, and 5th in the league in net rating.

Like the Spurs, Miami is a well-coached team that makes the most of its depth, with 13 different players averaging ten-plus minutes per game, and 11 averaging 17 minutes or more. The scoring is there as well in those minutes, as outside of their four strongest scorers (Butler, Herro, Adebayo, and Lowry) the Heat have seven other players contributing roughly seven points-per-game (or more), a number that tops even a reserve-strong squad like San Antonio.

And in addition to their depth, this Heat team still holds a trump card in the top-tier star that is Jimmy Butler. Butler has served as the glue holding the team together, and will be available in this one in spite of a number of bumps and bruises. According to a variety of advanced statistics, Butler remains one of the 5-6 most impactful players in the league this season.

However, the Heat do have at least glaring weakness coming into this game. With both Abedayo and Dedmon out, Miami will be down to their 3rd string center, rookie Omer Yurtseven, and their ability to play small-ball will be hindered with both P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris out as well. Even franchise mainstay Udonis Haslem will not be available for spot work due to a recent covid test.

The avenue to victory is clear in this one, with the Spurs needing to take advantage of a depleted roster and threadbare front-court by riding their big men and attacking the rim at-will throughout. We’ve already seen what even the most depleted teams can do to the Spurs if they don’t come out firing though, and with Butler on the court this one will probably still be close. Here’s hoping that manic degree of focus will be contagious.

Miami Heat (21-13) at San Antonio Spurs (14-19)

December 29, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT

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

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins - Out (Foot), Dejounte Murray - Doubtful (Health and Safety protocols)

Heat Injuries: P. J. Tucker - Questionable (Foot), Markieff Morris - Doubtful (Neck), Kyle Lowry - Doubtful (Health and Safety Protocols), Dewayne Dedmon - Out (Knee), Bam Adebayo - Out (Thumb), Victor Oladipo - Out (Leg), Udonis Haslem - Doubtful (Health and Safety protocols)

What to watch for:

  • Derrick White: Primary Ball-handler - It’s been pretty well established since a playoff explosion in 2019 that Derrick White is more than capable of serving as the primary point guard. However, that’s also the last time that Derrick White has really been in the position for an extended period of time. And while it’s hard to complain since that has largely been due to the successful return of one Dejounte Murray, it’s possible that Murray’s opportunities have come at the expense of further development for White as an on-ball option. Like it or not, this is a good opportunity for Derrick to get some reps without affecting the team hierarchy, and he’ll need to make the most of it for the Spurs to continue with the positive momentum they’ve gathered over that past several weeks. Though White certainly showcases a more traditional and probing style of play, he looked (understandably) a bit hesitant in San Antonio’s last contest against the Jazz, and he’ll need to adjust quickly and summon some of that 2019 postseason aggression for an offense that’s used to playing at a much brisker pace than that 2019 team did.
  • Keldon Johnson vs. Jimmy Butler - In the past it might have seemed a bit laughable to call this a legitimate match-up, but Butler’s a bit banged up from carrying the Heat through a sea of injury-related woes and Johnson has come a long way, particularly as a shooter. A strong and rangy defender, Butler could simply sit back and wait for Keldon’s bull rushes, or simply deny the entry passes to him in the first place, but the addition of a legitimate outside shot and a better grasp of off-ball movement have made Johnson a much trickier assignment. Meanwhile, Butler has been a major force keeping Miami afloat while critical contributors get healthy, profiling as an analytics monster when available. While all of San Antonio’s players will need to step up on the offensive side to make up for Dejounte Murray’s absence, Keldon profiles as one of their most reliable threats, scoring 27 points in their win against Detroit, but (tellingly) only 13 in their loss to the Jazz. Just matching Butler’s scoring efforts while hindering him a bit might serve as yet another sign of bigger things to come for Johnson in a year marked by indications of growth. It’s a match-up that could end up deciding things in favor of either team, and if nothing else, watching these two go at each other should make for good television.

For the Heat’s fans’ perspective, visit Hot Hot Hoops.

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.