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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks

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Can the Silver and Black bounce back in the penultimate SEGABABA of the season?

New York Knicks v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs have now lost seven of their last nine games after falling short on the road to Brooklyn on Wednesday, but there won’t much time to rest or reflect as they return to the hardwood for a matchup with the Knicks less than 24 hours later. And with one more back-to-back versus the Suns awaiting them on the final leg of their regular-season schedule, New York might best San Antonio’s last shot at a winnable contest.

Fortunately for the Silver and Black, Julius Randle and company enter Thursday with several uncertainties on their injury report, which could provide them with the edge they need to come away victorious. Either way, San Antonio should be inspired to play their best basketball when they arrive in the Big Apple as a single win or loss could have legitimate play-in tournament implications for them.

San Antonio Spurs (33-36) @ New York Knicks (38-31)

May 13, 2021 | 6:30 PM CST

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Trey Lyles (Out — Ankle), Derrick White (Out — Ankle), Luka Samanic (Questionable — Hand)

Knicks Injuries: Mitchell Robinson (Out — Foot), Reggie Bullock (Questionable — Ankle), Alec Burks (Questionable — Knee), Derrick Rose (Questionable — Ankle), Immanuel Quickley (Out — Ankle)

What to Watch For

  • San Antonio’s path into the postseason got a little clearer on Wednesday as the Mavericks defeated New Orleans, sending them to the lottery for the third consecutive season. Although the Spurs are a virtual shoo-in for the play-in tournament at this point, their destiny is still very much in their hands, as a single win will lock up the tenth and final play-in spot in the Western Conference. A Sacramento loss will also propel the Silver and Black into the play-in tournament, but leaving their fate up to another team isn’t an ideal scenario. Unfortunately, San Antonio’s last three games include a matchup with the Knicks and Sun (x2), each of whom will be motivated by last-minute seeding consequences. As for the Kings, they’ll end their regular-season scheduled against the Grizzlies (x2) and the Jazz, who are likewise pursuing better playoff positioning. Thankfully, the good guys have blown out both Phoenix and New York earlier this season, which should give Spurs fans a smidgeon of reassurance as they prepare for the playoff-bound Knicks tonight.
  • No player has taken a more substantial and unexpected leap to stardom this season than Julius Randle. After being dismissed as a consolation signing after the 2019 free agency market dried up, the seventh-year forward has blossomed into a bonafide All-NBA candidate for a darkhorse Knicks organization. The former seventh overall pick has averaged 24.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 46/42/81 shooting splits while showing off his newfound playmaking skills. And after years of rigorous workout routines and strict diet plans to get into phenomenal physical shape, Randle now leads the league in minutes per game, outpacing the runner-up in total time spent on the court by 126 minutes. His breakout campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, and the well-rounded big man will have a world-famous Madison Square Garden crown on his side when the Spurs cross boroughs for their second to last SEGABABA of the season. That said, with several significant members of his supporting cast in doubt for this Thursday evening tilt, San Antonio might be able to focus more of its attention on stopping the first-time All-Star.
  • While New York owns the eighth-worst offensive rating (110.2) in the NBA this season, they’ve more than made up for their scoring shortcomings with their fourth-ranked defensive rating (107.9). Engineering a high-powered attack has never been head coach Tom Thibodeau’s specialty, but few play-callers are better at orchestrating a suffocating defense. And that’s precisely where the retooled Knicks have thrived. The Spurs have averaged an astounding 117.8 points per game since April 26, New York has allowed just 108.6 points per game over that timeframe, and San Antonio is unlikely to have their way with such a stingy group of stoppers. This matchup is particularly precarious for the Silver and Black. Nearly half of their shot attempts have come at the rim or midrange, and the Knicks hold their opponents to the worst and the eighth-worst field goal percentage from those zones. Even if the Spurs resort to a perimeter-oriented game plan, New York lays claim to the best three-point defense in the league.
  • DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray have come together to form quite the dynamic offensive, combining for 41.8 points, 10.4 boards, and 13.0 assists per game over their last eight outings. Despite their gaudy nighly numbers, the Silver and Black are merely 3-5 over that stretch. Demar and Dejounte can only do so much to push San Antonio over the hump, and they’ll need a lot more help from the rest of the starters and the second unit if the Spurs want to avoid consecutive trips to the lottery for the first time in franchise history. Lonnie Walker IV, Jakob Poeltl, and Keldon Johnson went M.I.A. against the Nets, and while Patty Mills has finally broken his cold spell, Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell can’t afford to 5-of-20 off the bench. Tre Jones, Keita Bates-Diop, Luka Samanic, Drew Eubanks, and Gorgui Dieng made things interesting down the stretch of a game that appeared to be heading towards a blowout. So, perhaps we’ll see head coach Gregg Popovich fiddle with the rotations again should anyone underperform for an extended period.

For the Knicks fans’ perspective, visit Posting and Toasting.

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.