Winning on the road tends to be harder than winning at home, so road trips are the hardest part of the schedule. Things get even tougher when the team is down players. That’s the position the San Antonio Spurs were in for most of their seven-game road trip, which started with the team missing Dejounte Murray and ended last night with the team down seven players. Given these circumstances, what we take away from this trip should be focused on the process more than the results.
Even though the Spurs went 1-6, they battled in every game. There were a few bad quarters along the way, like the second quarter against the Raptors, the first against the 76ers, and the fourth quarter Monday night against the Knicks. If you could remove those quarters from those games, the Spurs played them even. It feels very similar to the start of the season, when the Spurs went 4-13. They were playing hard, keeping games close, but still learning how to play and win together.
The Spurs return to San Antonio having dropped a spot in the standings while they were away, but they’re only a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers. Now, they’ll play 12 of their next 14 games at home to make up some ground before going on the annual Rodeo Road Trip. If they’re to do that, though, they’ll need some of the players in heath and safety protocols to come back and round out the roster, even if that means we don’t get to see Josh Primo as much.
- Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Dejounte Murray should be an All-Star. By all accounts, what Dejounte has been this season is what Spurs fans have been hoping he’d become. Complimenting him for his performance is becoming somewhat repetitive, but it’s completely earned. He showed again last night why that is, posting 25, 5, and 4 with 2 steals and 1 block on 11-19 shooting. The game ended up getting out of hand when he went to the bench to start the fourth with the Spurs down 7, but he did everything he could to keep it close heading into the final 12 minutes. People say the Spurs might not have enough wins to get them in, but outside the top-4, most of the Western conference has been middling. If he doesn’t get in, it’s probably more that there aren’t enough roster spots available for all the guards worthy — but one thing I can say for sure is that Dejounte is worthy.
- RJ Barrett is averaging 15.7 points per game this year on 40.% shooting, 33.9% from three. You wouldn’t know it if you only watched him play the Spurs, as he scored 32 while shooting 11-20 from the floor, but he was 7-8 from three in the teams’ first meeting, and last night, he went for 31 on 12-20 shooting, 3-4 from three. Part of the reason he’s lit up the Spurs has been the focus they put into stopping Julius Randle, which leads to open shots, but he does have a set of skills at his size that causes fits for the Spurs. He’s bigger than Dejounte and Derrick White, and quicker than Keldon Johnson, so the Spurs don’t have a natural defender for him. Luckily, the Spurs won’t see him again until next season, but I’m sure Coach Pop and his crew are going to look back on these Knicks matchups and come away thinking about changing their strategy next year.
- Let’s look on the bright side of life for a moment. We figured Josh Primo was going to spend most of his time this season with the Austin Spurs. Not just because he was the youngest player in the league, or that rookies tend to get sent there, but the main squad was filled with guards that have been around a while, and decisions need to be made on their future. However, this health and safety protocols the NBA has in place led to Primo getting consistent playing time over the past 8 games that’s only going to build confidence in a young player that’s seemingly overflowing with it already. He’s displayed a shot-making ability that not many Spurs have at the moment, noted by his game-tying 3 against the Brooklyn Nets, but what stands out the most may be his defense. Look at the video below of Primo staying in front of Evan Fournier. He has the right mentality on both sides of the ball, and I already can’t wait to see how he looks in a year or two.
Love everything about this— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) January 11, 2022
Primo’s defense, Poeltl keeping it moving, Lonnie with the shot
- A few years ago, the Spurs drafted a lengthy wing that could handle the ball, pass well, and play smart defense. The downside was that he couldn’t shoot a lick and was nicknamed “Slo Mo.” After a few years playing minimal minutes, he was given a larger role in 2017-18 and earned himself a four-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Apparently PATFO missed having a guy with that size and skillset, because Keita Bates-Diop is almost a carbon copy. He’s been tasked with guarding some of the opposing team’s best players and has done a fairly good job — he held Julius Randle to 0/3 in over five minutes the two were matched up. He’s also able to grab a rebound, bring it up court, set up a defender, and drop slick passes for an assist. Earlier this season, I wrote a Halloween article and compared him to the girl from The Ring because “if you see him, there’s only about 7 minutes left in the game, regardless of whether the Spurs are winning or losing.” Now, he’s proving to be a quality role player for a position the Spurs have been lacking.