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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Atlanta Hawks

The Spurs will look to start the 2021 Rodeo Road Trip with a bang.

San Antonio Spurs v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After playing nine of their last ten games at home, the Spurs are headed out on their 19th annual Rodeo Road Trip. (It doesn’t matter that the Rodeo is only being held in a limited capacity at the Freeman Coliseum, not the AT&T Center, and the parking lots are not needed for fans. Tradition must go on.) Although the RRT hasn’t been kind to the Spurs in recent years, they have performed well on the road this season, and a friendly schedule sets the Silver and Black up to build on their current record, beginning in Atlanta.

San Antonio Spurs (14-11) @ Atlanta Hawks (11-13)

February 12, 2021 | 6:30 PM CST

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Out — hip), Luka Samanic (G League), Tre Jones (G League)

Hawks Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Game Time Decision — back), Kris Dunn (Game Time Decision — ankle), De’Andre Hunter (Out — knee), Bogdan Bogdanovic (Out — knee)

Welcome back, Rodeo Road Trip?

Throughout the era of the Big Three, the Rodeo Road Trip became a hallowed tradition. From 2003 through 2017, they never posted a losing record on the typically seven to nine-game road trip, and it was often considered the time when the team gelled and came together before running roughshod over the rest of the league heading into the playoffs. However, the last three seasons have busted any positive views of the annual outing.

Since 2018, the Spurs have posted just a 4-18 record on the RRT, and while they were still able make the playoffs the first two times, last season’s 2-6 effort was too much to overcome after the season was suspended soon after, and the Bubble didn’t provide enough games to make up for it (although they came extremely close). Ultimately those Spurs were just not good road teams, and the RRT only exacerbated that issue. This year might be different.

While some of it can be attributed to the quirks of playing in mostly empty arenas and the higher levels of responsibility and focus players are carrying on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spurs have been markedly better on the road (7-3) than at home (6-7) this season. Whatever the reason, their propensity for winning away from the AT&T Center combined with a friendly schedule — six of the seven games are against Eastern Conference foes, and all are against teams who currently hold losing records — should equate to their first winning RRT record since 2017, which would only help their position in the standings as so many teams continue to over around .500.

In other words, this might be the first time in quite a while that the Rodeo Road Trip is worth looking forward to. Who saw that coming when this season started?

Containing Trae Young

Hawks All-Star guard Trae Young is a scoring machine. He may not be the most efficient scorer — he’s shooting just under 42% from the field so far this season — but he can get hot in a hurry. His 37% three-point shooting on over six attempts per game is too respectable to help off of, but he can also hurt opponents when he chooses to drive. He’s second in the league at getting to the charity stripe with 10.3 free throw attempts per game while knocking them down at a high rate of 88.9%, so the Spurs will need be wary and avoid fouling.

On top of all that, he’s dishing out a career-high 9.5 assists per game and has plenty of shooters around him, so the Spurs will need to maintain their discipline on defense. While they have perimeter defenders in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson who can individually help contain Young, the team defense as a whole needs to be much better. Lack of communication, getting caught on switches, poor rotations, and transition defense have all been issues for the Spurs this season on the defensive end, and they especially stood out in their two meetings against the Warriors when they were continuously burned in transition, by backdoor cuts, and by shooters being left wide open.

Beyond Young, the Spurs defense will also need to stay glued to forward John Collins, who can knock it down from all ranges, and be aware of players like three-point specialist Kevin Huerter, Danillo Gallinari off the bench, and rebounding machine Clint Capella, who grabs nearly 5 offensive rebounds per game. The Spurs will require a full team effort on both ends of the court, but for the most part that hasn’t seemed to be an issue on the road this season. Hopefully they can start this Rodeo Road Trip off on the right foot.

For the Hawks fans’ perspective, visit Peach Tree Hoops.

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.