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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Can a shorthanded Silver and Black squad get back on track at home?

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Spurs are finally heading back to the familiar confines of the AT&T Center after a ten-day coronavirus-induced hiatus brought about the shortest Rodeo Road Trip to date. San Antonio ended the abbreviated version of their annual excursion with a 2-1 record, with their only loss coming at the hands of a heartbreaking buzzer-beater in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.

Although the Silver and Black dropped what was likely the most winnable game for the remainder of their first-half schedule, they have a legitimate opportunity at picking up another win before the All-Star break when the Pelicans come to town. New Orleans has lost six of their last nine games, but Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram always keep them within striking distance.

San Antonio Spurs (16-12) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (14-18)

February 27, 2021 | 7:00 PM CST

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Rudy Gay (Out — COVID Protocols), Keldon Johnson (Out — COVID Protocols), Devin Vassell (Out — COVID Protocols), Derrick White (Out — COVID Protocols), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Out — COVID Protocols), DeMar DeRozan (Questionable — Personal)

Pelicans Injuries: None

Containing Zion and Ingram

Although Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are undoubtedly among the best young duos in the NBA, the Pelicans haven’t quite figured out how to surround them with a suitable supporting cast. A bevy of trades brought Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to New Orleans this offseason, and unfortunately, it hasn’t amounted to much success up to this point.

You might expect awkward spacing from the Pelicans based on their roster construction, but they own the seventh-most efficient offense from a field goal percentage standpoint (48.1%). While Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have provided complementary production, Zion and BI are responsible for 42.2% of New Orleans’ points this season.

With 95.4% of all his shots coming inside the paint, you can bet Zion will look to attack the interior early and often. Don’t let that predictability fool you into thinking Williamson won’t be a handful. Only five teams, including San Antonio, have held the 284-pound bruiser under 50% from the field this year, and it would be a miracle if they pulled that feat off again.

As for stopping Brandon Ingram, the Spurs will likely lean on Lonnie Walker IV with Rudy Gay and Keldon Johnson out of commission. The third-year guard spent a team-high seven minutes and four seconds as the primary defender on the lanky All-Star in their previous meeting and recorded a block and two forced turnovers while holding him to 4-of-11 shooting.

Getting Guys on the Same Page

Considering how little time unfamiliar faces had to build any chemistry with one another, San Antonio didn’t look half bad in their last contest. Despite some noteworthy defensive miscommunications throughout the evening, including a costly mistake as time expired, the Spurs were able to hold the Thunder nearly five points below their season average.

This time out, the Silver and Black take on the task of stopping a similarly pedestrian opposing offense. That said, fans should probably refrain from passing judgments about this squad as long as they remain significantly shorthanded. What’s most important is that we continue to see the good guys battle through adverse conditions with maximum effort every night.

And if head coach Gregg Popovich hopes to steal a few matchups as an underdog, identifying which roles best fit San Antonio’s available players will be integral to staying afloat in the Western Conference standings. That process began against OKC with Luka Samanic starting and LaMarcus Aldridge coming off the pine, and it sounds like that arrangement might be here to stay.

Third-stringers Keita Bates-Diop and Drew Eubanks played a combined 29 minutes with the second unit, and recent G-League assignee call-up Tre Jones got in on the action for 12 minutes. While the above trio isn’t known for explosive scoring, their defensive tenacity gives San Antonio enough depth to find Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV rest.

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.