After being one of the organizations least impacted by COVID-19 through the first half of the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs have seen eight players enter health and safety protocols since Christmas. Lousy luck has derailed their new year after a phenomenal month of December saw them become one of the most lethal offenses in the NBA.
Head coach Gregg Popovich and company sit a game outside of the play-in picture, jockeying with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, and New Orleans Pelicans for better positioning in the Western Conference. And they should have every chance to regain a little ground as they return to the 2-1-0 for a seven-game homestand.
Dejounte Murray has continued establishing his name inside the All-Star conversation, Keldon Johnson has cemented himself as a reliable three-point shooter, and Jakob Poeltl has quietly been one of the top two-way centers in the league. Josh Primo has also had a shot at legitimate NBA minutes, and the rookie has flashed his tantalizing offensive potential.
Jan. 12: San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
The Rockets have undeniably been by far the worst team in the Western Conference this season. Not only does Houston have the worst defensive rating and highest turnover rate in the league, but their intentional tanking has them on pace to the fourth-fewest games in franchise history.
Second overall pick Jalen Green hasn’t quite burst onto the professional scene in the way some fans thought. However, the rookie swingman has averaged 17.7 points on promising shooting splits of .442/.407/.833 since returning from a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for a month.
Juggling a jumble of fringe NBA talent, inexperienced players, and out-of-place veterans isn’t a simple task, and head coach Stephen Silas has yet to get everyone on the same page. The Silver and Black should be licking their chops on their flight back to the 2-1-0 for a seven-game homestand.
Jan. 14: San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland has been one of the best stories in the league this season after spending three years rebuilding following the second departure of LeBron James. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen have taken a developmental leap into borderline All-Stardom, propelling the Cavaliers into playoff territory.
Despite several fresh and familiar faces taking their games to a new level, rookie center Evan Mobley has been the undisputed anchor for the third-best defense in the NBA. The 20-year-old ranks sixth in blocks per game, and he is already among the most switchable big men in all of basketball.
Most of San Antonio’s missing players should clear COVID-19 protocols in time to suit up against the Cavaliers. With that said, a couple of significant contributors could end up on temporary minutes restrictions as the Spurs reset rotations and carefully ease them back into their usual roles.
Jan. 15: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George established himself as a potential MVP candidate as he kept the Clippers afloat earlier this season. But Los Angeles took a nosedive in the Western Conference standings after their seven-time All-Star tore a ligament in his right elbow three days before Christmas rolled around.
Although Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson have done everything within their power to right the ship, the rest of the supporting cast can’t seem to get things going. And with nearly everyone playing outside of their typical role, the team has only managed a 3-9 record over the last few weeks.
The Spurs haven’t entered many games as favorites through the first half of their schedule, but the odds should be in their favor despite meeting a fellow play-in hopeful in a SEGABABA. This matchup might be one of San Antonio’s most winnable contests over this upcoming ten-game stretch.
Jan. 17: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
The Spurs have given Phoenix all they can handle and come up just short of a comeback in their previous two meetings, and round three should be another entertaining installment. A hamstring injury stopped Devin Booker from suiting last time out, but that won’t be the case on Monday night.
Although Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Booker give the Suns the upper hand over San Antonio on paper, San Antonio has seen success stopping their All-Star backcourt. Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are a premier defensive pairing, and they’ll have an opportunity to prove their worth.
Even if CP3 and Book don’t get enough breathing room to get their shots off cleanly, the amount of attention they command from defenders afford their sharpshooting teammates plenty of open looks. Misplacing Landry Shamet, Cam Johnson, or Mikal Bridges could spell trouble for the Spurs.
Jan. 19: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio will have a perfect chance to avenge an embarrassing early-season loss as the Thunder visit the AT&T Center for a rematch between two of the youngest teams in the NBA. The Spurs can also create some much-needed space between them and Oklahoma City in the standings.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the craftiest scorers in the association, and he has been a pain in the neck for the good guys since he landed in the Sooner State. The fourth-year guard dropped a career-high 42 points on them a year ago, and he can catch fire at any moment.
The Thunder don’t have a ton of proven depth, but undrafted forward Lu Dort and rookie guard Josh Giddey have set themselves apart as ancillary building blocks. Things could get interesting if OKC gets production from role players like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Darius Bazley, and Mike Muscala.
Jan. 21: San Antonio Spurs vs. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn has gone 2-5 and been one of the worst teams in the NBA since the new year began. Ankle surgery left resident marksman Joe Harris out of commission, and COVID-19 protocols kept a handful of rotation players on the sidelines, which has taken a tremendous toll on the Nets offense.
Kevin Durant and James Harden have been nothing short of fantastic over this stretch, combining to average a whopping 54.4 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 14.9 assists per game. Though superstars are the driving force behind every contender, they still need role players to hold everything together.
Fortunately for the Nets, reinforcements are on the way as their franchise steadily inches towards 100%. Harris is mere days away from rejoining the roster, Brooklyn has cleared Kyrie Irving to participate in road games, and the Spurs would be lucky to force another overtime against this group.
Jan. 23: San Antonio Spurs vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Although the Ben Simmons holdout drama has continued to make national headlines all season, the Sixers have survived without their All-Star point-forward in the lineup. Philadelphia isn’t necessarily an Eastern Conference frontrunner, but they are nowhere near falling out of the playoff picture.
Joel Embiid has arguably been one of the six best players in the league so far, and NBA.com ranked him fourth in their latest MVP ladder. The three-time All-NBA honoree has posted 32.9 points, 10.1 boards, and 4.7 assists over his last seven games, and his club has yet to lose since 2022 began.
Head coach Doc Rivers and company blew out the severely shorthanded Spurs in the City of Brotherly Love earlier this month. San Antonio should have plenty of motivation to return the favor to Philly when these squads square off for the final outing of their seven-game homestand.
Jan. 25: San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets
The Silver and Black have defeated legitimate title contenders and laid a couple of eggs against depleted bottom-dwellers. Inconsistency is one of the defining characteristics of an inexperienced team, and San Antonio is still going through growing pains.
Thankfully, the Spurs have the unraveling Rockets on their schedule twice over the next ten contests. You probably shouldn’t write off this divisional battle as a surefire victory, though it will absolutely be among their most favorable matchups before the All-Star break.
Jan. 26: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis went an outstanding 10-2 while Ja Morant went through health and safety protocols for almost a month earlier this season. The Grizzlies have gone 10-2 since their superstar point rejoined the roster, continuing their somewhat surprising ascent in the Western Conference standings.
The new-age Grizzlies would be easy to ignore if they exclusively feasted upon lottery-bound teams. However, Memphis has defeated the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Lakers (x2) amid their league-leading ten-game winning streak.
Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, De’Anthony Melton, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Ziaire Williams, Killian Tillie, Xavier Tillman, Kyle Anderson, and Jaren Jackson Jr. allow head coach Taylor Jenkins to go twelve men deep. And Memphis has the personnel to bother the Spurs.
Jan. 28: San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago Bulls
The DeMar DeRozan reunion is perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the year for the Spurs. After endless debates among the fanbase as to whether or not San Antonio should let him walk, PATFO pulled the trigger on a deal that netted Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, and draft picks.
With complementary co-stars in Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball, DeMar finally has the pieces in place that boost his best qualities as a scorer and secondary facilitator. And the four-time All-Star has entered his name into the MVP discussion as Chicago has exceeded expectations.
The first-place Bulls are an elite on both ends of the court when healthy, and they have been the sixth-best road team (12-7) in the NBA. Dejounte Murray and DeMar both have something to prove, and it should make for an entertaining back-and-forth between the pair of former teammates.
Record: 4-6 (19-31)