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The reason for the Spurs’ recent struggles

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The Spurs have won just two of their last 10 games, with nine of those coming at home. The PtR staff tries to figure out what’s wrong in San Antonio and if it can be fixed in time to keep the team in the playoff picture.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs finished their nine-game homestand with only two wins. What do you think is the main reason for the recent struggles and is it fixable going forward?

Mark Barrington: This has always been a transitional year for the Silver and Black. They have a bunch of young developing players that are going to be inconsistent, and a couple of talented veterans (DeRozan, Gay, and Mills) that aren’t talented enough on their own to overcome bad games by the rest of the team. DeMar DeRozan is the team leader, but he has a limited game that is easy to plan against if no one else on the team is stepping up. And the biggest issue has been team defense. The rotations have been slow and communication has been poor. In a normal season, a lot of that could be cleaned up in practice, but with the compressed schedule, there simply isn’t time for that. With injuries scrambling the lineups, teammates that aren’t used to playing together are often making the wrong switch, or not switching at all, leaving two players on the ball and a wide open shooter on the perimeter or under the basket.

I think all of these problems are correctable, but I’m not too worried about it right now. The Spurs were never going to be a title contender this year, so the experience they are gaining will hopefully light a fire under the young guys to clean up the defensive play and make better decisions on the court. Best case scenario this year is that the Spurs end up in the 9-10 play-in spot, and get a lottery spot in the draft and also a little bit of playoff experience. It looks to me like that’s quite possible if they can just play with a little more urgency for the entire game, instead of just a few minutes at a time.

Marilyn Dubinski: When looking at issues specific to this homestand, two factors stand out: injury, and whatever ails them at home. The former is just misfortune, and while the fix is as simple as getting healthy, that’s easier said than done with the luck this season’s squad has had. Lonnie Walker’s value has almost shown more in his absence than it has in his presence, with the bench outside of Rudy Gay struggling to score on this homestand, and his ability to create for himself and provide outside shooting has been sorely missed. Also, losing Gorgui Dieng along with Trey Lyles and briefly Drew Eubanks has robbed the Spurs of their frontcourt depth, so nothing is coming easy.

That being said, they still should have won at a minimum two and arguably four more games, and that goes back to something that has been an issue all season: winning at home, and that has more to do with the psyche of the team than talent or who’s available. There’s really no explanation or excuse for their inability to find as much energy and determination at home compared to the road, especially now that they have fans in the stands. Whether it’s complacency or a need for Gregg Popovich to mix things up, something has to change. If they somehow manage to keep winning at a plus-.600 rate on the road, they they should still be okay, but that’s a lot to ask with this schedule, and they will still be left wondering what could have been if they had just taken care of business in the AT&T Center.

Bruno Passos: The team has operated with a slim margin for error all season, and it feels like a few things have started to work against them enough to tilt the results. Health has warped and limited rotations and prevented Pop from plugging newly signed Gorgui Dieng into the mix. Their defensive principles have not been as tight as they once were (fouls are up, defensive rebound rate is down) and they’re continuously fighting an uphill battle when it comes to basketball math. Combine that with the emotional and physical grind of a COVID-impacted season and it makes for quite a pendulum swing.

Is it fixable? I’m not so sure — a lot of these factors are out of their hands and their schedule only gets more difficult from here. They should remain competitive on most nights but it’s probably going to be something like three-point variance that determines whether they’re on the right side of their margin for error.

Jesus Gomez: The main problem in general is that this team is not particularly good. A surprisingly strong start and a lot of close wins obscured that fact, but eventually it was going to become obvious, and it has now.

In this specific stretch, we are seeing that a lack of reliable three-point shooting and shot creation can only be overcome with near elite defense, which the team can’t consistently play. The way the Spurs have been carved up in the pick and roll lately despite in theory having the personnel to defend it shows that there’s still work to be done to get everyone on the same page on that end, which is understandable. This is mostly a young team with some veterans that either have never been known for their defensive effort or don’t have the tools to lead the way in terms of impact on that end. The lack of a good back up center hasn’t helped, either.

The good news is that it should all be fixable, maybe even in the short term. If some of the young guys who struggle with outside shooting get hot, the offense will perk up. Defensively the Spurs have been awful lately, and they have the players to at least be average. At some point they’ll get healthy. Whether a small improvement in play will be enough to overcome a brutal schedule and make the playoffs is unclear, but at least the free fall should eventually stop.

J.R. Wilco: This season has been about the failure of narrative. It’s not that the eye test has been fully invalidated by the 2021 Spurs, but there have been too many mitigating circumstances that have warped the conventional wisdom about the team. Remember the beginning of the season when the Spurs were racking up wins against shorthanded teams; or when the starters were holding back the bench; or how Aldridge needed to go so the team could excel, or how Poeltl needed to start, or that the couldn’t score so they should rely on that great defense.

As has been stated before, the team is young and this season would be inconsistent even if it had been a normal one. And there’s been, without a doubt, hardly a single normal thing about this season.