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Spurs’ offensive struggles continue in loss to the Pelicans

The Spurs couldn’t overcome a slow start and dropped their sixth game in a row.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

A bad start doomed the Spurs to their sixth loss in a row. The offensive struggles continued at home after the road trip and San Antonio ran into a Pelicans team that pounced quickly to take control of the game and ride some strong performances from their stars to a comfortable 129 - 110 win.

Anyone hoping a return to San Antonio would solve the Spurs’ recent scoring issues was quickly disabused of that notion, as the Silver and Black struggled to even get decent shots up early. The type of ball and player movement that was getting the Spurs good looks earlier in the season remains there, but opponents have gotten much better at cutting off passing angles, which means most of the possession is spent trying to find an advantage that never comes. It took San Antonio almost five minutes to get a field goal, and it honestly felt longer than that. On the other end, the Pelicans were just picking apart a defense that tried but was at a size disadvantage inside and was getting a little lost on switches. Things got a little better on the offensive end when the second unit came in, led by Doug McDermott’s 11 first-quarter points, and that was enough to stay within range despite a horrid early performance, heading to the second quarter down just 10.

There were a few good moments before the break for the Spurs, as Devin Vassell came alive and the defense did enough to cause some turnovers from an opponent that was likely feeling a little overconfident, but it never seemed like the Pelicans had lost control of the game. An 8-0 start of the period gave the visitors the buffer they needed to simply be able to take some possessions off without having to pay for it, and they had the weapons to put up points on the board whenever they wanted, thanks to the great play of Jonas Valanciunas, Zion Williamson and Devonte Graham. New Orleans’ lead hovered between the 15 and 20-point mark for the majority of the frame, as they could always get a stop or get a three to fall when needed while every good play took a lot of effort from the Spurs. The Pelicans finished the half up 19, and it felt fair.

The tricky thing about trying to mount a comeback after falling behind by so much is the opponent has to allow it. San Antonio had some little runs but those on their own didn’t make enough of a dent in the deficit in the third quarter because eventually New Orleans responded, and when the dust had settled, the home team was always still down by double digits. The Spurs played better than the Pelicans for long stretches, with role players like Keita Bates-Diop and McDermott putting together strong stretches, but they simply couldn’t compete with an opponent that has several go-to scorers. Whenever they needed a bucket, the visitors could simply go to Williamson or Brandon Ingram, who came alive after a quiet first half. The effort was there, but the difference in talent and experience was too much to overcome for the Silver and Black, who trailed by 19 going into the final period.

Often it seems like teams that are trailing simply run out of time to make their move, but on Wednesday it felt like the game could have gone on for two more hours and the Spurs would have still struggled to get within single digits. It was just one of those nights when even the type of shots guys normally make were not falling and no matter how much everyone hustled on the other end, the stops were not coming consistently enough. The Spurs remain in a funk and have now dropped six games in a row.

Game notes

  • Valanciunas always gives Jakob Poeltl trouble with his range. Jak is a fantastic, adaptable defender but guarding stretch bigs is one of his few weaknesses. What makes Jonas even a tougher cover is that he also has the size to score inside and battle on the boards with any true center. It’s just one of those matchups that nullifies the impact of one of the Spurs’ most important players.
  • The Spurs’ broadcast is not the most beloved among the NBA League Pass audience and even some Spurs fans are not the biggest fans of Michelle Beadle being on the crew, but they have done a good job all season of being serious enough while also trying to be entertaining even during blowouts. Watching games as a fan of a rebuilding team can be tough, but it’s worse when the announcers sound miserable.
  • The physical development of Jeremy Sochan over the next few years will be fascinating to watch. Games like this one expose that he doesn’t have the strength to deal with big forwards, but there are not that many of those around anymore. Should he remain as nimble as possible to be a great perimeter defender even if it means struggling on the boards and against big men stronger than he is? That seems like the best option, but he’ll need to at least gain some muscle.
  • Keldon Johnson’s struggles continued, as he only played under 17 minutes and scored only five points on nine shots. He’s shooting 30 percent in the last five games and honestly looks a little frustrated. There will be some downs in the process of getting to the next level, so hopefully he’ll keep firing and finds his rhythm.

Play of the game

One of the issues in this game? The Spurs couldn’t really run, which limited the impact of Tre Jones. When San Antonio gets on the break, Jones normally makes good decisions and has the passing acumen to get other good looks.

Next game: Vs. Lakers on Friday

LeBron James could be back to face the Spurs, which could make snapping the losing streak harder.