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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan makes his first trip back to San Antonio after being traded to the Bulls last summer

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs’ have certainly had had their media team hard at work this past week! Exactly one week after welcoming back LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills to the AT&T Center with their new team, the Brooklyn Nets, the Spurs have an opportunity to see another old friend, DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, as you know, was traded to the team from the Toronto Raptors during Summer 2018 and played a part in navigating the franchise through the immediate years after the Kawhi Leonard debacle. Following the sign-and-trade deal that brought him to Chicago this past summer, DeMar, alongside All Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, has played a large role in keeping the Bulls at or near the summit of the Eastern Conference this season. Case in point: Chicago’s 30 wins this season is just one shy of their win total for all of LAST season and as long as they don’t fall apart, are on track to make their first playoff appearance since the 2016-2017 season.

January, though, has been a bit rough for them. They’re 7-7 since the calendar turned to 2022 and 5 of those losses have come against teams that are expected to make the playoffs. They’re also down 2 point guards, both of them offseason acquisitions and both of them for the foreseeable future. Alex Caruso fractured his wrist last week and Lonzo Ball, it was announced Tuesday, would undergo surgery for a torn meniscus suffered back on January 14th against the Golden State Warriors. This comes after what was turning out to be a breakout year for the former #2 overall pick as far as recognition goes.

The Spurs, unfortunately, fall into the category of sub-.500 teams that most of Chicago’s wins have come against this month. As Gregg Popovich alluded to following Dejounte Murray’s franchise-tying 14th career triple double in the loss to the Grizzlies the other night, San Antonio needs to have more than just 1 or 2 guys playing well if they want to win games and that’s just something that hasn’t happened with much consistency this year. Still, every night is an opportunity to get better and what better way to show you’re making strides than by taking care of business against a former teammate and one of the better teams in a conference?

San Antonio Spurs (18-31) vs. Chicago Bulls (30-17)

January 28, 2022 | 7:30 PM CT

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

Spurs Injuries: Keith Bates-Diop (OUT — COVID)

Bulls Injuries: Patrick Williams (OUT — wrist), Alex Caruso (OUT — wrist), Lonzo Ball (OUT — torn meniscus), Derrick Jones Jr. (OUT — finger)

What to watch for

  • DeMar DeRozan is still the elite offensive talent he was with the Spurs. His shot attempts are way up compared to his time with the Spurs where he operated a little bit less with the ball in his hands and spent more time probing the defense when he did have it to set other guys up. That’s not to say he isn’t looking for the open man anymore, but he’s finishing more possessions with a shot attempt than he did for the Spurs. DeRozan’s 19.1 FGA leads the Bulls this season.
  • No one takes fewer 3s per game than Chicago, who are attempting a league-low 30.2 3PA per game. They counter that though by making 38% of those looks, tops in the league. Outside of possibly Zach LaVine, though, no one suiting up for them tonight would be considered a sniper by any means.
  • Devin Vassell has been one of the bright spots on the team this season. The 2nd year forward, who dropped 20 points for the 3rd time this season in the loss to Memphis, has taken the opportunity that Pop has presented him with and ran with it, to the point where Pop is comfortable leaving him in to close out games. It’ll be fun to watch him potentially guard up DeMar and LaVine.
  • Dejounte Murray has a chance to break a tie with David Robinson tonight for most triple-doubles in franchise history. He’s also on a 5-game double digit assist streak, the first such streak for a Spurs guard since the Little General Avery Johnson suited up for the Silver & Black. If Murray continues the latter streak tonight, there’s a chance he ends up with the franchise record tonight as well.

For the Bulls fan’s perspective, please visit Blog a Bull.

You can follow along with tonight’s game on PtR’s game thread and over on our Twitter account (@poundingtherock)