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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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Can the Silver and Black end their nine-game homestand on a positive note?

San Antonio Spurs v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Spurs have looked like a completely different team since four positive coronavirus test results surfaced and put them on a ten-day basketball hiatus less than 24 hours after Valentine’s Day. San Antonio has lost 12 of their last 20 contests since then, including six of eight on their ongoing nine-game homestand. And with the second-toughest schedule remaining in the league, the good guys are in desperate need of a win.

Thankfully for the Silver and Black, the lottery-locked Cavaliers are their final opponent before leaving the AT&T Center for a five-game road trip that includes a miniseries with the Nuggets and a back-to-back beginning with the streaking Mavericks. Collin Sexton and crew present San Antonio with their most winnable matchup for at least another week, and unlike Cleveland, Gregg Popovich doesn’t appear interested in piling up losses.

San Antonio Spurs (24-23) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-32)

April 5, 2021 | 6:00 PM CST

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Keita Bates-Diop (Out — Hamstring), Lonnie Walker IV (Out — Wrist), Trey Lyles (Out —Ankle), Gorgui Dieng (Questionable — Shoulder)

Cavs Injuries: Larry Nance Jr. (Day-to-Day — Illness), Jarrett Allen (Day-to-Day — Concussion), Dylan Windler (Day-to-Day — Knee)

What to Watch For

  • The Cavaliers have been an unmitigated disaster this season as they continue to tank away their season in hopes of acquiring yet another top-end lottery talent through the 2021 Draft Class. Cleveland has lost 21 of their last 28 games and averaged a league-worst 101.8 points per game over that span. Not only is their offense in shambles, but their defensive rating has plummeted to 23rd in the NBA during this same stretch. And with a five-game road trip ahead of them, this is easily San Antonio’s best shot at ending their two-game skid. Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr. could be absent tonight, so there won’t be any excuses for the Spurs if they drop a home matchup versus the 14th place Cavaliers.
  • As is the case with most teams, slowing them down begins with keeping their star players in check. And with several players uncertain to suit up for this game, San Antonio’s defensive gameplan will likely center around stopping Collin Sexton from getting hot. The shorthanded Cavaliers have relied on their third-year combo guard to stay competitive, but the rest of his supporting cast hasn’t stepped up to meet him halfway. While Sexton is averaging 23.3 points per game since the start of last week, no one else on Cleveland’s roster posted more than 12.0 points per game over that timeframe. Even if Darius Garlan picks up some steam on Monday, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White should provide more than enough defensive firepower to make life difficult for the inexperienced backcourt.
  • Jakob Poeltl has been on a roll since San Antonio bounced back from a blowout loss at the hands of the 76ers in mid-March. The fourth-year center has 12.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game over his last 12 appearances and has recorded a career-high four consecutive double-doubles. Should Jarrett Allen remain sidelined due to concussion protocols, Poeltl could be in line for another huge night. Recent trade deadline acquisition Isaiah Hartenstein is the only healthy center on Cleveland’s roster, and there’s a reason this is his third NBA home in as many seasons. Though the German seven-footer has done a solid job as a spot starter, there’s little doubt who has the upper hand in this frontcourt matchup.
  • Despite San Antonio’s 2-6 record on their recent homestand, Derrick White has seemingly found his footing within the familiar confines of the AT&T Center. Although the fourth-year combo guard is averaging 18.1 points per game, his stunning production from long-range has him trending in the right direction. The Colorado alum is shooting 39.1% from three-point land on an eye-popping 8.6 attempts per game, the 13th-highest volume in the NBA since March 22. Some may be discouraged by his below-average efficiency from virtually every other spot on the floor. But considering Derrick has dealt with COVID-19 and two injuries to the same toe this season, it’s great to see him playing with perhaps the most confidence he’s shown since breaking out in the bubble last August.
  • After Gorgui Dieng suffered an evening-ending shoulder sprain within minutes of making his Spurs debut last Wednesday, fans may finally get a chance to see what the Senegalese center brings to the table. While his questionable tag on the injury report doesn’t guarantee minutes against the Cavaliers, head coach Gregg Popovich may want to integrate him into the rotation as soon as possible, even if it means limited play against an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder. Drew Eubanks has performed admirably in his role as a depth-insurance big, but Dieng adds another dynamic with his length, experience, and floor spacing.
  • Kevin Love finally made his long-awaited return last Tuesday following a lengthy calf injury he suffered in late December. While his name alone still carries the cachet of All-Star status, his best days are probably far behind him. The two-time All-NBA forward hasn’t logged more than 60 games in six seasons and has struggled with efficiency, shooting just over 42% from the field since 2018. He still owns the buttery-smooth stroke to light up opponents from beyond the arc, but don’t expect him to have the opportunity to do so as head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has the veteran on a minutes restriction.
  • Cleveland has no business making this a tight contest. The Silver and Black need to come out motivated and put their downtrodden opponent away early. Though Luka Samanic and Tre Jones all figure to factor into San Antonio’s long-term plans, there’s little chance for them to play more than a handful of garbage time minutes if the Spurs don’t blow out the Cavs. Getting Devin Vassell around 30 minutes and a few possessions as the go-to guy would be marvelous, and Cam Reynolds and Quinndary Weatherspoon deserve a crack at NBA competition.

For the Cavaliers fans’ perspective, visit Fear the Sword.

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.