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 7: The Spurs’ 11th straight loss and third consecutive winless week moved them into to a tie for best odds at one of the top three draft picks next summer.
Well, that was unexpected. While I predicted the Spurs would end their losing streak against the Rockets, I did not foresee a perfect week. Maybe I should have when looking at the radically inconsistent state of the Heat right now, but I imagine no one else saw that coming a week ago, either.
Three days off probably helped a lot, with the team dealing with many bumps and bruises, and they did get some much needed bench help back with Josh Richardson returning from a six-game absence, as well as Doug McDermott. Gregg Popovich also reportedly ran a couple of testy practices, getting hard on his players and encouraging them to be hard on each other. Clearly it worked.
The Spurs brought that attitude to a surprisingly chippy game against the Rockets, led by a physical battle between Zach Collins and Alperen Sengun. In fact, Sengun might have even had the posterization/dunk of the year in that game had he not cleared Collins out with his off arm. Ironically, the amount of time that was spent reviewing James Silas’ (unsuccessful) challenge of the offensive foul call seemed to suck away a lot of the emotion and momentum the Rockets could have used from that play whether it counted or not, and the Spurs cruised from there, getting their first victory in nearly a month.
Likely feeling rejuvenated from experiencing victory again, the Spurs kept the high level of play going in Miami, where Devin Vassell returned from injury and helped lead a dominant performance by the Spurs bench, while Romeo Langford remained in the starting lineup and delivered a career-high 19 points. Collins and Charles Bassey kept Bam Adebayo in check, and 30 points from Jimmy Butler wasn’t enough to overcome the Spurs’ team effort. Can they keep this level of play up? We’ll find out as players slowly return from injury. (As of the posting of this article, Jeremy Sochan is a game-time decision tonight, while Jakob Poeltl remains out.)
Naughty Spurs. We all get you needed to experience the sweet taste of victory for morale purposes (as did we, the fans, for our own sanity), but you weren’t supposed to do it against a team you’re in direct competition with for the bottom of the league, and you certainly weren’t supposed to win two games in a row. Now you’re back outside of the bottom three. For shame. (This is of course sarcasm on my end, but maybe not so much for tank-at-all-cost fans.)
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 30 (last week: 30)
OffRtg: 107.9 (29) DefRtg: 118.1 (30) NetRtg: -10.2 (30) Pace: 101.6 (7)
The Spurs still rank last defensively by a healthy margin, but they’ve done OK when they’ve been un-terrible on that end of the floor. Wins over the Rockets and Heat put an end to their 11-game losing streak and made them 8-7 when they’ve held their opponent under 120 points per 100 possessions. The 30th-ranked defense actually ranks seventh in opponent free throw rate and the Spurs held the Rockets (who rank seventh in free throw rate) to just 15 attempts from the stripe on Thursday, while also holding Houston to just 53% shooting in the paint.
The Spurs still rank 29th offensively, but they’ve avoided falling into the basement by scoring more than 120 points per 100 in the two wins. It was noted in this space last week that Keldon Johnson sort of broke out of his slump in loss No. 11 of the streak, and he was the leading scorer over the two wins, totaling 53 points on 21-for-36 (58%) shooting. Getting Doug McDermott (6-for-10 from 3-point range) back from a two-game absence was key, and Romeo Langford had himself a night (career-high 19 points) in Miami. The Spurs’ starting frontline – Jeremy Sochan and Jakob Poeltl – has been out the last five games, but Zach Collins has been healthy and totaled 26 points over the two wins. For the season, Collins is one of 15 players who’ve shot better than 70% on at least 50 shots in the paint.
The Rockets and Heat both have bottom-10 offenses, and the Spurs will play them both again over the next eight days. That includes the NBA Mexico City Game (vs. Miami) on Saturday.
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 29 (last week: 30)
1st Q: -17.0 net rating | Ranked 29th
2nd Q: -4.2 net rating | Ranked 22nd
3rd Q: -1.7 net rating | Ranked 19th (tied)
4th Q: -18.0 net rating | Ranked 30th
Clutch: -18.1 net rating | Ranked 26th | 9 games (3-6)
Takeaway: Don’t look now, but the Spurs had a 2-0 week! They snapped an 11-game losing streak by beating Houston, which didn’t seem that out of the norm. But then they went to Miami and took the Heat down in a close game. It went against the trend for putting a product on the floor that is about development … i.e. developing a 14 percent chance of landing Victor Wembanyama.
Enzo Flojo, Clutch Points — 28 (last week: 30)
Speaking of the Spurs, how about those back-to-back wins over the Rockets and Heat, eh? They’re still going nowhere, of course, but these moments of fancy are pretty fun once in a while.
Prediction: 2-1 — I’m really torn here. I started off at 1-2, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt too pessimistic. The Spurs already have road wins over two of these teams this season, and even though the Trail Blazers and Heat are good enough to come back and exact some revenge, I just feel like the Spurs will win one of the two home games before pulling off another win on a neutral court to complete the series sweep of the Heat. Maybe that’s too optimistic, but this week I’m going with my heart over my gut. Winning does that to a person.