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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ New Orleans Pelicans

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The Silver and Black seek to pad their lead in the standings over the shorthanded Pelicans as they kick off a four-game road trip.

New Orleans Pelicans v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Every matchup for the remainder of San Antonio’s regular-season schedule holds significant weight in determining where they finish in the standings. And arguably no matchup influences their fate more than their Saturday night showdown with the Pelicans, who trail them by just a handful of games in the Western Conference playoff race.

Not only would a loss bring New Orleans closer to catching the Spurs, but it would drop them to tenth place, effectively giving the Golden State Warriors home-court advantage in the single-elimination play-in. And with just three opponents below .500 the rest of the way, the Silver and Black need every win they can get if they want to avoid an early vacation.

San Antonio Spurs (29-29) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (26-33)

April 25, 2021 | 7:00 PM CST

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Trey Lyles (Out — Ankle), DeMar DeRozan (Probable — Quad)

Pelicans Injuries: Josh Hart (Out — Thumb), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Out —Ankle), James Johnson (Day-to-Day — Groin), Steven Adams (Day-to-Day — Ankle)

What to Watch For

  • The Pelicans are playing better basketball than the 4-5 record over their last nine contests suggests. Wins against the Kings, Cavaliers, and Magic aren’t anything to write home about, but their double-digit victory versus the first-place 76ers is a noteworthy triumph. And there’s zero shame in competitive losses to the Knicks (x2), Wizards, and Nets (x2), who are a combined 18-5 since April 9. At 16-10 outside of the AT&T Center, the San Antonio Spurs may own the fifth-best road splits in the NBA, but a dub on Saturday isn’t guaranteed. New Orleans performs like an entirely different ball club inside the familiar confines of the Smoothie King Center. They also have some guy named Zion Williamson on their roster.
  • Second-year forward Zion Williamson has been on an unbelievable tear since the All-Star Break, averaging an eye-popping 29.1 points per game on 62.6% shooting from the field while getting to the line at a staggering rate of 9.1 times per game. Zion’s detractors love to discount his scoring prowess because 95.9% of his offense comes at the rim, but it’s easy to see why that’s a laughable talking point. Would it be nice if Williamson had an advanced in-between attack and a reliable three-ball? Of course. But give the coaching staff credit for putting him in a position to succeed, and give Zion credit for playing to his strengths. Even though their modus operandi can be predictable, few teams have stopped the All-Star from getting buckets. All that pressure the former number one overall pick puts on defenses only creates open opportunities for teammates. And Zion has displayed a propensity for getting the ball to wide-open shooters, dishing out nearly four assists per game with more facilitating responsibilities on his plate this season.
  • With DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and Patty Mills well-rested as the Spurs enter this crucial encounter with the Pels, San Antonio should have a good chance to walk away with a dub. All three rotation regulars looked gassed against the Miami Heat, but a few days off should do wonders for their tired legs. With that said, if Patty doesn’t perform well on Saturday, head coach Gregg Popovich shouldn’t hesitate to replace him with Tre Jones or Devin Vassell. The latter didn’t have a particularly memorable outing versus the Pistons, but he provides more positional versatility on both sides of the ball. As for San Antonio’s 2020 second-rounder, Tre looked every part of a backup point guard in 19 minutes off the bench on Thursday. And with as much man-to-man defensive switchability as Luka Samanic displays, he should receive at least some consideration as a frontcourt substitute despite a forgettable performance in his fifth career start.
  • NBA teams have won almost 68% of their games in 2020-2021 when they outscore their opponent from beyond the arc. The Spurs boast an 86.7% winning percentage when they pull of the previously mentioned feat. But the problem is, San Antonio only has 15 such games under their belt this season, and their insanely low three-point volume is mostly to blame. The Silver and Black have attempted the second-fewest triples in the league up to this point. While something as simple as shooting more long-range jumpers might sound like the obvious fix, they don’t have the appropriate personnel to fire away. The good guys rank in the bottom third in three-point efficiency this season, which would be the third-worst mark during the Gregg Popovich era. Luckily, New Orleans is also a low-volume long-distance shooting squad, and they hit the three-ball at an abysmal 34.9% clip. The Pels have seen that number drop to 30.9% since April began, so San Antonio should have the upper hand on the perimeter.

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.