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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Sacramento Kings

The Spurs look to even things up with a win in a regular season two-game series.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a seventeen point thumping at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, the San Antonio Spurs are back at in the second game of a two game series between the teams. Having gone 1-5 in their last six contests, the San Antonio Spurs look to have their backs up against the wall in spite of being halfway through their longest homestand of the year.

Anecdotally, for the first time that I can recall, the Spurs have felt like they’ve had a distinct disadvantage at home rather than on the road, and their record backs it up, having gone 11-14 at home vs. 12-7 away from the confines of the AT&T Center.

First quarter slumps and unfavorable officiating have dogged the Spurs at home all season, but the most significant reason for their latest skid has been a combination of offensive woes and defensive exhaustion.

Some players have battled inconsistency issues and injuries, and others have been swarmed by defense when the rest of the rotation has been slumping, a nasty combination for a team operating at a slim offensive balance (as evidenced by a net rating that has spent more of the the season hovering at or just below even).

Losing (however temporarily) the contributions and spacing that Lonnie Walker has provided this season has been yet another thorn in the side of a Spurs team still searching for a secondary offensive identity in the wake of LaMarcus Aldridge’s demotion and eventual exit.

The good news is that the Spurs will be facing a team that’s been even more youthfully inconsistent than they have. Like the Spurs, the Kings are sporting an (even more) negative net rating, and have gone 12-12 on the road. Additionally they have the NBA’s worst defensive rating and are typically middling from long distance.

The bad news is that the Kings shot lights out in their last matchup with San Antonio, dropping 18(!) threes on the Spurs to the tune of 56% from the field, and that they’re 7th in scoring, 9th in offensive rating, carrying the league’s 7th best true shooting percentage and a five game winning streak (7-3 in their last ten).

There’s always a narrative that the team that really shows up any given night will be the winner, and that was certainly the case Sunday evening, but it's anyone’s guess which team will show up on both sides in what has to be considered a matchup of two of the most inconsistent teams in the Western Conference. Here’s hoping it’s the good guys in this one.

March 31, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Lonnie Walker IV - Out (Wrist), Keita Bates-Diop - Out (Hamstring), Gorgui Dieng - Unavailable (Day-to-Day)

Kings Injuries: Jahmi’us Ramsey - Out (Hamstring), Hassan Whiteside - Out (Knee), Marvin Bagley III - Out (Hand)

What to watch for:

  • The Re-Return of Derrick White: Over the last several seasons, one of San Antonio’s constant x-factors came in the form of Dejounte Murray’s varying play. Certainly, injury and re-acclimation had a great deal to do with those inconsistencies, but this season Murray has appeared to have found a steady floor, scoring and defending reliably, while (largely) avoiding the turnover issues that had previously hamstrung his ability to direct the offense. And while Murray’s definitely not a finished product, it’s been Derrick White struggling with his own inconsistencies that has afflicted the San Antonio back-court this season. Like Murray last season, White has struggled with re-acclimation after a long layoff, and the result is a field goal percentage of 39%, and 33% from deep. The sample size isn’t overwhelmingly large, but at twenty games played I think it’s safe to say that inconsistency has plagued White in his time on the court, as he has tallied five games in which he has shot 58% or better from the field, but also five games in which he’s shot 30% or worse. The former shooting percentages stand as a compelling bit of evidence that White hasn’t lost his shot so much as his rhythm, but the Spurs will need every efficient offensive contribution they can get, and they’ll likely need ‘Good Derrick’ in order to have a real chance at making this postseason, much less presenting a challenge for whichever seed they come up against in the event that they do.
  • The Keldon Johnson Slump: The title of this bullet point is going to come off a bit provocative for a fan-base as dedicated to Johnson as this one, but I’d like to be clear that I’m simply calling it what it is, not issuing judgment on his potential or an indictment of his play. Any player seeing their first season of significant rotation time is bound to hit a snag at some point in the season, and it’s that stretch that often reveals the kind of resolve a player has. Personally, I have a feeling that Keldon has all the determination needed to get over this hump (and then some) but I’m not going to ignore recent difficulties either. In four of the last six games, Johnson has walked away with one drawn foul or less (a major change from earlier in the season) and has tallied a field-goal percentage higher than 46% only once. It seems that the book is now out on Keldon, as teams have begun to opt for a ball-denial and/or quick switch strategy against him on defense, rather than letting him build up momentum on the way to the rim. Without the terrific forward charge that’s enabled him to draw fouls and bowl through a stacked paint like a ball through pins, he’s been forced wait for good opportunities to unleash his still-in-progress jump shot, rather than creating opportunities of his own around the rim, and the Spurs offense has suffered as a result. This could be a telling point in Johnson’s development, as he’ll have to come up with a creative solution to this problem. The good news is that he’s a part of one of the best player-development franchises in the NBA and has a coaching staff that will likely be able to help him come up with some creative alternatives, but the crux of any further forward progress is ultimately going to fall onto Keldon’s broad shoulders. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.

For the Kings’ fans’ perspective, visit Sactown Royalty.

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.