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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns

The Spurs finally snapped a six-game losing streak, but can they hold off the NBA’s top-performing team?

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Derrick White returned Saturday to snap a six-game losing streak for the Spurs, leading San Antonio with 19 points in a 101-94 win at home over a Los Angeles Clippers team that was missing both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

It was an important win, though — one that stopped the losing skid and gave the Spurs a sense of normalcy after a long stretch without any. The Silver and Black now turn their attention to the Phoenix Suns, who own the best record in the league. The Suns will be on their second game of a back-to-back after thrashing the Pistons in Detroit, 135-108.

San Antonio Spurs (16-27) vs. Phoenix Suns (33-9)

January 17, 2022 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Suns Injuries: Dario Saric (Out — Knee), Frank Kaminsky (Out — Knee), Cameron Johnson (Out — Ankle), Abdel Nader (Out — Knee), DeAndre Ayton (Questionable — Ankle)

Spurs Injuries: Tre Jones (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Jakob Poeltl (Day-to-Day — Back)

What To Watch For

  • It’s been a few weeks since San Antonio’s dominant victory over the Pistons on Dec. 26 — a moment that felt like a high point of the season given the team won the game by a 144-109 margin without Dejounte Murray and had just come off wins over the Jazz, Clippers and Lakers. But it’s all come crashing down. The COVID outbreaks across the country that likely gave the Spurs an advantage over many teams during their hot stretch at the end of December eventually got around to San Antonio. Since that Pistons game, the team has won just two of its last 11 contests. The Spurs’ most-used starting lineup of Murray, White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott and Jakob Poeltl hasn’t played together since the win over the Lakers on Dec. 23. San Antonio is getting close to being back to 100%, though. All of its starters are out of COVID health and safety protocols. Poeltl was the lone starter who didn’t play on Saturday, dealing with “bilateral back tightness,” but is bound to come back soon. The question is, how much of the team’s recent slump has been the lack of availability among its best players and how much of it has been other teams around the league returning to full strength?
  • Jakob being ruled out allowed Jock Landale to earn his first start of the season against the Clippers. The Australian posted his first double-double of the year, scoring 10 points and grabbing a season-high 11 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. He’s played in 14 games since Pop slotted him into the rotation full-time during San Antonio’s game against the Kings on Dec. 19. During those games, he’s averaged 7.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 16.1 minutes per game (his per 36 minutes numbers: 16.8 points, 8.7 boards, 1.3 blocks) while hitting 48.7% on field goals and 40.6% on 3s. Saturday’s game looked like he’s really starting to settle into his place on the team — the Spurs were plus-14 with him on the floor. Among the team’s players that have played in at least 20 games, Landale has the highest net rating among all of them at plus-7.6. He’ll likely start for as long as Poeltl’s out. DeAndre Ayton sprained his ankle early against the Piston on Sunday and did not return, leaving JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo to pick up the slack. It could shape up to be another big Landale game.
  • Also, Jock still needs a nickname. The best I could come up with was “The Bossy Aussie.” But I don’t know that he’s bossy enough for that.
  • Phoenix can likely handle the loss of Ayton thanks to All-Star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul. White coming back is a huge factor, giving the Spurs a capable defender against either matchup. Him and Dejounte will have their hands full, though. Booker didn’t play the first time the two teams met this season on Dec. 6 but Paul still posted 21 points and 10 assists while handing San Antonio a 108-104 loss. Guarding both players will be an even bigger challenge.