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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets

Splitting the season series thus far, the Spurs look to pick up a game on their I-10 rivals.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are back on the road after a seven game home-stand, looking to try and build another win streak without several of their primary contributors. Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray will join LaMarcus Aldridge in absentia for this one, though both designations look to be temporary in their case.

Thankfully, it looks as if the Houston Rockets will be in the same boat with Christian Wood and John Wall also missing this edition of the I-10 corridor match-up. With the Spurs at 12-10 and the Rockets just behind them at 11-10, this could end up being a game with playoff seeding implications come March, though it seems more likely that it could end up deciding which team makes it to the postseason at all.

With the exit of James Harden, these teams look to be evenly matched. Victor Oladipo and DeMar DeRozan are the odds-on favorites to pick up the scoring slack for each side, but it’s their supporting cast who will end up deciding this one in the absence of other dreadnought scoring options.

The scene is set for what will likely be a tight contest, and the rise of a typically unheralded (or simply less heralded) hero. Offensively the two teams are evenly matched, with Houston slightly ahead of San Antonio in points per game (17th vs. 18th), and the Spurs slightly ahead of the Rockets in offensive rating (20th vs. 22nd). The big difference will be defensively, as the Rockets are currently second in the league in defensive rating, and the Spurs . . . well the Spurs are just a bit off of that pace.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen here, but I’d be very surprised if either team came out of this one with more than a narrow win. Here’s hoping the capable but streaky San Antonio defense shows up in this one. They certainly have the talent, but now it’s time to put it all together before the stretch run.

February 6, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge - Out (Hip), Lonnie Walker (Illness), Dejounte Murray (Questionable)

Rockets Injuries: Christian Wood - Out (Ankle), John Wall - (Questionable), David Nwaba - Out (Ankle), Dante Exum - Out (Calf)

What to watch for:

  • First Quarter Woes: In a fit of curiosity, I went back through every game score this season to see if the Spurs first quarter issues have been something that I had internally exaggerated. As it turns out, they were not. The Silver and Black have exited the first frame down by at least one point in fifteen of twenty-two games so far, with a record of 7-8 in those contests (as opposed to 5-2 in games they exit the first with a tie or lead). Roughly extrapolated, this means that the Spurs have a 71% chance of winning the game if they win or tie their first quarter, and only a 46% chance of winning if they don’t. Granted, these are percentages that fluctuate with every win and loss, but at this point it wouldn’t be unfair to argue that this Spurs team will have difficulty making the postseason if they continue experiencing opening period slumps.
  • Defensive Slumps: While it’s true that opening slumps have been a real issue for the Spurs, so has defensive consistency. Even as opponents seem to shoot their best percentages against San Antonio, the team has broken into the top 10 in defensive rating several times this season, showing that the potential is there. Putting it together night after night though is still a work in progress. Looking through game scores, I discovered that San Antonio has given up 35+ points in a quarter in six games this season. So far, the Spurs are 0-6 in those games. It might seem simple to say that they key to winning involves playing good defense, but with the Spurs’ offensive rating having fallen into the toilet (20th overall), this team simply cannot afford to have a defensive rating sitting in the same area (now 17th overall). Of the six games in which San Antonio has given up 35+ points in quarter, two of them came in the last three contests (both against Memphis), so the concern is hardly just an early season woe at this point.
  • Stepping Up Offensively: With LaMarcus Aldridge, sometime Rockets killer Lonnie Walker IV, and (possibly) Dejounte Murray out in this one, the Spurs will need someone to step up their scoring outside of DeMar DeRozan. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay can usually be depended on to hold things together in the second unit, but an already struggling starting rotation will likely need someone else to show out unless this team suddenly starts playing all-world defense. My bet is on Keldon Johnson, but rookie Devin Vassell should also be getting some more court time in this one. Honestly, I’d be happy to be surprised by any one of the young guns. Because, well, just about every San Antonio fan loves a Rockets killer, am I right?

For the Rockets’ fans’ perspective, visit The Dream Shake.

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.