Well, the time has finally come. After having the upper hand personnel-wise in so many games over the last few weeks, the San Antonio Spurs will be the ones walking into this contest shorthanded.
With Doug McDermott and Lonnie Walker IV joining Dejounte Murray in Covid protocols, the Spurs will be down their 1st, 5th, and 6th leading scorers; a tough pill to swallow for a team that depends on balanced offensive contributions from the whole to win games.
With the postponement against the Miami Heat serving as an odd sort of blip, the Spurs are on a three-game losing streak, having narrowly fallen to the Jazz in Dejounte’s absence, and then failing to execute against undermanned Memphis and Detroit teams.
The Raptors present a bit of a mirror image for the Spurs, as a team that was supposed to rely on their defense, but has instead lurked on the edge of the top 10 in offensive rating (11th for the Spurs, 12th for the Raptors) while the the defense has been middling (16th in defensive rating for the Spurs, 21st for the Raptors).
With a shrewd title-winning coach at the helm, the Raptors play to their strengths, leading the league in transition percentage (while ranking 1st in fast-break points scored and percentage of fast-break points scored), being similarly stingy with their turnovers (6th in turnover percentage), rebounding the ball (2nd in both offensive rebounds and rebound percentage), and swiping the ball at every opportunity (3rd in steals, 2nd in opponents turnover percentage).
This won’t be a team that the Spurs can afford to get lose with the ball around, as the Raptors are also 2nd in points off of turnovers, and the Spurs will need to will need to gobble up all the defensive rebounds that they can, as Toronto also ranks 2nd in second-chance points, an area the Spurs also typically excel in (6th).
However, unlike the Spurs, the Raptors’ record has mostly been in lockstep with their net rating (16th in the league), as they continue to hover around .500 for the season.
It should be an interesting match-up, with more of an old-school vibe for a pair of teams that typically lean on the fundamentals and don’t shoot a ton of threes compared to their peers. Neither team is much good at drawing fouls either (ranking 27th and 30th), so I’d expect it to be a gritty yet free-flowing contest, that will likely come down to whichever team can slow the offense of the other down more consistently.
The numbers favor the Spurs ever so slightly, but as their record has shown thus far, numbers aren’t everything.
San Antonio Spurs (14-21) at Toronto Raptors (16-17)
January 4, 2022 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins - Out (Foot), Dejounte Murray - Out (Health and Safety protocols), Doug McDermott - Out (Health and Safety protocols), Lonnie Walker IV ) - Out (Health and Safety protocols), Devontae Cacok - Out (Health and Safety protocols), Keita Bates-Diop - Questionable (Right Hamstring)
Raptors Injuries: Issac Bonga - Out (Health and Safety protocols), David Johnson - Out (Calf), Goran Dragic - Out (Personal), D.J. Wilson - Doubtful (Health and Safety protocols)
What to watch for:
- The First Win of the New Year: Analysis has a way of getting out of hand, but sometimes it’s just that simple. Scheduling quirks aside, the Spurs could really use a win here. The end goal should always be winning, of course. But the Spurs are visibly struggling without Dejounte Murray, and could really use the confidence that winning without him might bring. The margin is razor-thin without Murray, and the Spurs (both the organization and players) need to know that they have other players they can depend on in order to accurately chart this team’s future.
- Tre Jones’ Audition for Primary Ball-handler Off-the-Bench: I wrote in my last preview about the importance of Derrick White getting some solo reps running this new, speedier Spurs offense, but that neglected the simultaneous importance of the bench squad finding someone dependable to run the point while White spends even more time with the starters. Much as I like Lonnie Walker, his inconsistency remains a factor, and his play-making abilities are visibly compromised when working out of half-court sets. This would be probably be a bigger issue if a possible solution hadn’t already been on the horizon this year in Tre Jones. Outside of White (and perhaps even more so than) Jones is the most traditional point-guard on the roster, and in limited opportunities has been highly efficient working in the half-court. With Walker out for another game or two, Jones really has an opportunity to shine in that role. Playing 20+ minutes in both of the last two games, he’s shown real flashes as he adjusts to the increase in playing time, which could prove important if San Antonio were to lose Murray or White to injury, trade, or free agency in the future. Gifted as Josh Primo appears to be, he also seems to be more suited to a role as a play-making wing, so this would be a big win for a front office that knows that you can never have enough ball-handlers.
Professor Pittsley’s Primer:
For the Raptors’ fans’ perspective, visit Raptors HQ.
PtR’s Game thread 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.