After an extremely rough loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs will be looking to get on track against another young ball club that, like them, has shown promise throughout the first half of their schedule, but they are trending in opposite directions heading towards the All-Star break.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are much better than anyone could have anticipated this season. The Las Vegas Oddsmakers had Cleveland winning just 26 games this year, and they’re already just two games away from that mark.
As for the Spurs, they’ve been impressive as an offensive unit yet are significantly underperforming on the defensive end. With COVID-19 also running its course across the roster over the last few weeks, it seems as though something is always waiting to knock them down a few notches right when they start gaining traction. With players gradually returning — Doug McDermott has been ruled available and Derrick White upgraded to questionable — the Spurs must do everything in their power to build some momentum and take advantage of the rest of their seven-game homestand.
San Antonio Spurs (15-26) at Cleveland Cavaliers (24-18)
January 14, 2022 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports SW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Tre Jones (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Derrick White (Questionable— COVID-19 Protocols), Drew Eubanks (Questionable — Illness)
Cavaliers Injuries: Ricky Rubio (Out — ACL), Collin Sexton (Out — Knee), Isaac Okoro (Out — Elbow), Rajon Rondo (Questionable — Hamstring)
What to watch for:
- How will the Spurs fare against one of the NBA’s best frontcourts? The Cavaliers are a fun throwback to the golden age of hoops, except with a nice modern twist. Cleveland starts two traditional big men, and their frontcourt duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley has given numerous teams fits throughout this season. They have meshed seamlessly in their first year together, and it is a prime reason why the Cavs have been one of the surprise success stories in the NBA. From Mobley displaying dynamic three-level scoring ability to the outstanding rim-running and shot-blocking of Allen, the Spurs will have their hands full on both ends of the court. To make matters more tricky, San Antonio has questionable depth behind Jakob Poeltl, with Drew Eubanks possibly out (and having lost his rotation spot anyways) and Jock Landale still figuring his role in the NBA. In addition, the Spurs give up a 27.3% offensive rebounding percentage, which is an issue that could amplify when facing the dynamic Wine and Gold frontcourt. It’ll be worth keeping a close eye on how the Spurs fare against one of the best big-men tandems in the league.
- The matchup between Darius Garland and Dejounte Murray: One of the biggest surprises this season has been third-year point guard Darius Garland. After two so-so seasons in Cleveland, the former fifth overall pick has put together a strong campaign that’s bordering on All-Star consideration. His growth has been noticeable, and you could say the same thing about San Antonio’s resident floor general Dejounte Murray. The Washington alumnus has always been known for his defensive prowess, but he has significantly expanded his offensive repertoire this season, improving as a passer and finisher around the rim while steadily becoming one of the best two-way guards in the association. Both players are ascending talents at their respective positions, and their head-to-head matchup on Friday night will be something to keep an eye on.
- Will the Spurs begin to improve on the defensive end? Heading into the 2021-22 season, many believed the Spurs would be one of the better defensive teams in basketball. San Antonio’s success seemed dependent on how well they could lock down their opposition while being just good enough on offense. But like everything in recent years, expectations change rather abruptly. The Spurs have exceeded expectations offensively but found themselves in a rut on the other side of the ball. San Antonio ranks 20th in Defensive Rating and 21st in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Spurs are also giving up a 53.4% eFG%, which places them at 23rd in the league in that category. Their defensive struggles have been a shock to many, and after giving up 111 points or more in five of their last six games, San Antonio must begin turning the page. Hopefully, a strong outing against a challenging opponent can be a genesis of better days to come in Alamo City.
For the Cavaliers fans’ perspective, visit Fear the Sword.
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.