After three not entirely unexpected road losses to way over .500 teams, the good guys headed to Sacramento for a redemption game of sorts. The Kings were riding a not entirely expected four-game winning streak, in which their very best player had no hand due to the health and safety protocol. With De’Aaron Fox still out, and with ROTY candidate Tyrese Halliburton as well as veteran scoring presence Harrison Barnes also sidelined, the Kings had only one of their four players averaging thirty plus minutes this season available – Buddy Hield, whose nine out of ten made three-point shots from February 2020 against the Spurs are still haunting me. He alone wasn’t enough though to prevent the Spurs from all but securing their place in the play-in tournament, with the 30-37 Pelicans announcing that Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are out indefinitely. The Spurs are now 32-34 and pretty much safe in tenth place.
- It’s nice to see the number in the Spurs’ wins column increase by one, but that’s about it. The first three quarters of last night’s game saw two clear-cut lottery teams that have no place being in the playoffs. It wasn’t necessarily that the better team won – the worse team lost. The fact that you can win an NBA game making only four threes speaks volumes. Sure, the Spurs took over in the fourth, but someone had to and the Kings offered little opposition (and still twice cut the lead down to 1).
- The Spurs only recorded 20 assists, which is 4.5 below their average and 1.1 less than the Portland Trailblazers, who rank dead last in assists per game in the NBA. DeMar DeRozan only had three dimes, Dejounte Murray had seven. Though the latter’s is quite a respectable number, too much of the Spurs’ offense is centered around either of them bringing the ball up, trying to create their own mid-ranger, and handing the ball off in case they can’t. I’m dubious about the effectiveness of that type of isolation scoring. It puts a rather narrow ceiling on the offense. It may well be an option deep in the playoffs, when former Finals MVPs like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard take these kinds of shots, but less so in a Spurs regular season game when Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson are lurking in the corners doing nothing in particular.
- Speaking of Lonnie and Keldon being under-utilized on offense; both look so promising driving to the rim — one as a hang-glider, the other as a wrecking ball. Lonnie’s cuts in particular looked great in last night’s game, and his finishing around the rim should only improve as he’s given the opportunity to do so more often. He’s wasted in the corner when he doesn’t get the ball. The Spurs need more creativity to involve anyone who’s out there, but that’s hard to come by with Derrick White out for the season.
- Veterans on expiring contracts watch: Tongue firmly in cheek, Patty Mills looked more involved in last year’s Orlando bubble (when he was coaching) than in recent games. His form has taken a tremendous hit, so much that I’m pretty much lost for words. I’ll say this though: I hope he stays come what may. Rudy Gay, on the other hand, continues to look good. He’s the only guy on the roster who can create his own shot and is ready and willing to shoot from absolutely anywhere. If he leaves, someone else will have to take on and fill his role. His on-off plus/minus per 100 possessions is tremendous at plus 9.9 (team-best).
- Comic relief: In case DeMar decides to leave in the summer, could this guy, who’s pump-faking the Orlando Magic’s Mo Bamba into oblivion, be a replacement?