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Spurs Week in Review: Back to earth after three rough losses

Are the Spurs coming back down to earth after a surprising start, or was it just a rough week?

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!

Week 2: The Spurs had a 3-1 week despite a slew of injuries, internal drama and playing the same (supposedly superior) team three times.

Week 3: 0-3 (5-5 overall) — 100-143 L vs. Toronto Raptors, 106-113 L vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 126-101 L @ Denver Nuggets

After surprising the league with a 5-2 start to the season despite being given every reason and circumstance to be worse (rebuilding, schedule, etc.), the Spurs finally came back down to earth in Week 3, going 0-fer against a trio of should-be playoff teams. All three games followed a similar pattern, with the Spurs getting down by double digits early before briefly making things interesting again, then falling apart in the second half: a pattern that might feel familiar to fans who have been around the last few seasons.

They began the week missing their top two scorers in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell while suffering their worst home loss in franchise history against the Raptors, who presented a serious matchup issue with their length and ran the Spurs out of the building with a 39-12 advantage in fast-break points. It was just a bad, forgettable night all around for the shorthanded Spurs.

Next came the Clippers missing Kawhi Leonard, and that combined with the return of both Johnson and Vassell seemed like a prime opportunity to steal another win from a team that should finish above them in the standings. Once again, the Spurs almost immediately got down by 17 points in the first quarter, but red-hot shooting from Vassell brought them back, and they even managed to build a couple of double-digit leads in the second half, but they completely fell apart in the fourth quarter as the Clippers came back and gradually pulled away.

Finally, it was the most expected loss of the week, with the Spurs having to get right on a plane after the Clippers game and head to Denver for a SEGABABA. The Mile High City is already known for its homecourt advantage thanks to the altitude, and when a team comes in with no time to acclimate, that advantage is only magnified. While the Spurs kept things close for the first 8 minutes of the game, it was all Nuggets from there, with the visitors clearly out of gas for a majority of the game to complete the winless week.

Stat of the Week: Top two three-point shooters in franchise history?

Coming into the season, there was legitimate concern about the Spurs having enough shooting on the team to keep defenses honest. Two players that have squelched that concern so far are Johnson and Vassell, who are shooting 42.3 and 47.7 percent so far this season, respectively. That might be a little high to maintain, especially in Vassell’s case, but if they keep the volume up, they are well on their way to surpassing Danny Green’s 191 threes in one season for the franchise record. Can one or both do it? We’ll find out!

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann: 21 (Last Week: 12)

OffRtg: 109.8 (21) DefRtg: 117.0 (29) NetRtg: -7.2 (28) Pace: 103.4 (2)

Devin Vassell has looked pretty incredible offensively in his two games back from a four-game absence, totaling 49 points (on 19-for-28 shooting) in a little less than 50 minutes against the Clippers and Nuggets. He was doing all types of stuff — short pull-ups, spin-back fadeaways, step-backs, in-and-out dribbles, drop-off dimes — in his first game back on Friday and, for the season, he’s 21-for-44 (48%) from 3-point range and has just seven turnovers with his 24 assists.

San Antonio led that game against the Clippers by seven points in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers then went on a 24-6 run to ruin Vassell’s return. The Spurs lost their other two games last week by a total of 68 points, getting outscored by the Raptors and Nuggets by 47 points (67-20) on fast breaks. Their 5-2 start was obviously a little fluky (weak schedule, negative point differential), and they’ve come back to earth with the three-game losing streak. They’re 5-5, but they’re the only team that’s trailed three games by at least 30 points and they have the point differential (third worst in the league) of a team that’s 2-8.

The Raptors and Nuggets both have top-10 offenses, and the Spurs’ 29th-ranked defense will play two more games against top-10 offenses this week, hosting those same Nuggets on Monday and then the fifth-ranked Grizzlies on Wednesday. Their Friday opponent doesn’t rank in the top 10 offensively, but it hasn’t lost a game yet.

Zach Harper: The Athletic — 29 (last week: 21)

Transition offense: 107.3 points per 100 possessions (22nd) | 15.3 percent of possessions (22nd)

Transition defense: 129.7 points per 100 possessions (29th) | 19.1 percent of possessions (tied-27th)

As the Spurs have come back down to earth, we’re seeing why not all fast-paced teams are necessarily good ideas. We see that with the Spurs’ transition game on both ends of the floor. Gregg Popovich has embraced the youth and athleticism of this roster and let them run quite a bit. However, part of the reason the pace is so high (third) is because this team turns the ball over a ton, so there’s a lot of sloppiness to the pace to ramp it up. They get crushed in transition defense because of this, and I’m not quite sure what they can do to clean that up. Getting back is the simple strategy, but the young Spurs need to find a way to slow the game down mentally to cut down all of these mistakes.

Enzo Flojo: Clutch Points — 14 (last week: 11)

After a blistering start, the Spurs took a whole lot of Ls this past week. And we’re not even really talking about on-court stuff. The Josh Primo issue will linger for this team, and though they’ve been respectable on the court, we feel like they’re due for a huge slide, especially with the Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Bucks coming up this week.

Coming up: Mon. 11/7 vs. Denver Nuggets (6-3); Wed. 11/9 vs. Memphis Grizzlies ( - ); Fri. 11/11 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (9-0)

Prediction: 1-2 — When I predict the Spurs will win, they lose. When I predict they’ll lose, they win, so I’m taking the pessimistic approach again to see if it triggers some wins (although it still feels realistic). I can see a more rested, healthy Spurs team getting revenge on the Nuggets at home in the second game of a miniseries, but I don’t see their porous defense being able to contain Ja Morant and the Grizzliesor the so-far undefeated Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will present the biggest challenge yet for rookie Jeremy Sochan.