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How the Spurs’ depth has kept them afloat after COVID delay

Not many people saw the Spurs maintaining their place in the standings after being ravaged by COVID, but here they are.

NBA: New York Knicks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs finally picked up their first SEGABABA win of the season on Tuesday night after blowing out the new-and-improved New York Knicks behind an all-around team effort. It came as a bit of a surprise after they had seemingly used all their energy to force overtime against the Brooklyn Nets the night before. Now they’ll have a chance to carry some of that momentum into the All-Star Break as the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to the AT&T Center for the final game of San Antonio’s first-half schedule.

Although the Silver and Black fell to their Western Conference foe on a gut-wrenching buzzer-beater in their return from a coronavirus-induced hiatus a little over a week ago, they’ve recovered with three consecutive strong showings against All-Star-led organizations. The good guys remain without several rotational pieces for this rematch — Derrick White, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell to COVID protocol and possibly LaMarcus Aldridge to a stomach ailment — but their depth should continue to shine through.

Although the Spurs are just 2-2 since returning from their four-game hiatus, their impromptu medley of first, second, and third-stringers surrounding DeMar DeRozan has displayed solid chemistry. San Antonio’s depth has kept them within arm’s reach in both of their losses and presented them a noticeable edge in both of their victories.

In a testament just how important depth is this season and how good Gregg Popovich continues to be at getting the most from limited or green players, Luka Samanic, Trey Lyles, Keita Bates-Diop, and Drew Eubanks have all been productive as spot starters and reserves for the Silver and Black, and the rest of the roster has smoothly stepped into any role asked of them.

Samanic scored a season-high 14 points against the Knicks while playing superb man-to-man defense on first-time All-Star Julius Randle. Though the second-year forward still lacks refined team defense, he only figures to improve as he builds confidence. And finding minutes for the 21-year-old should be a priority with holes in the lineup.

Lyles also recorded a season-high on Tuesday, and the talented stretch-four has flashed plenty of promise when given an extended run. Trey has averaged 11.5 points per game and knocked down the three-ball at a 45% clip since being inserted into the starting five, and the Spurs will probably need more of that tonight if Aldridge isn’t available.

Despite being ravaged by COVID and having played four to five fewer games than most of their competition in the West, the Spurs have comfortably maintained their footing in the standings, see-sawing with the Portland Trail Blazers between the fifth and sixth seeds while remaining a tier above the teams behind them in terms of losses.

Of course, any of those teams are capable of rising up — the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks finally seem to be playing to their potential — so the Spurs can’t take their foot off the gas if they want to make the postseason and/or avoid the playin tournament (which is for the 7-10 seeds). The second half of the season will be especially challenging with 40 games in 68 days and 11 more SEGABABAs, so even when they’re at full strength, that depth may be called upon again to keep the Spurs going.

Regardless, this team has continued to be impressive even with their backs against the wall, which is much more than can be said for last season’s iteration. Tonight presents the Spurs with another opportunity to show off their depth, exact some revenge, and carry momentum into the All-Star break. It should be fun — if they can maintain Shai Gilgeous-Alexander better.