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 8: After three much needed days of rest and practice, the Spurs ended their 11-game losing streak, winning both games of the week and enjoying the taste of victory again.
Week 9: 1-2 (9-20: tied for 28th in NBA) — 112-111 W vs. Cleveland Cavaliers; 112-128 L vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 101-111 L vs. Miami Heat (in Mexico City)
Coming off a winning week for the first time in over a month, the Spurs entered this week looking to remain on track — even if it’s unclear what exactly that is. Surely it isn’t losing 16 of 17 games and looking completely hopeless most of the time, but also no one probably expects them to be 8-2 outside of the stretch. That roller coast ride is too extreme for everyone to handle, and this week probably represented more of the happy medium of not winning too much to hurt draft position but still playing hard, remaining competitive, and being watchable — at least until the fourth quarter.
The Spurs began the week by extending their winning streak to three against the third-best team in the East, building a 19-point lead late in the third quarter despite the Cavs having a massive size, talent and shooting advantage on their roster. Of course, fourth quarter execution continues to be a problem, and with the Spurs clinging to what had withered down to a one-point lead in the final seconds, Keldon Johnson got his second block of the season to prevent a Donovan Mitchell game-winning layup, and Darius Garland missed the open three off the rebound to preserve the Spurs’ win.
Next came the Trail Blazers and a red-hot Damian Lillard, and they used some hot shooting from three to get out to a 19-point lead in the first half. The Spurs didn’t give up and fought back to get as close as four in the third quarter, but they couldn’t hold Lillard and company at bay forever, and Portland dominated the fourth quarter as the Spurs fell apart and started a new losing streak.
Finally, ending their “homestand” in Mexico City, the Spurs faced off against the Heat for the second time in a week, this time with Jakob Poeltl returning from a seven-game absence and the roster being as close to complete as it has been in a month. Like they did in Miami a week ago, the Spurs held their own against the Heat for the first three quarters despite a big game from Jimmy Butler (which was interrupted by a 35-minute halftime due to a power outage at the arena), but this time instead of holding on for the win, they once again crumbled in the fourth quarter for their second straight loss.
The Spurs return to the bottom four after briefly “dropping” to fifth last week. The schedule will ease up on them a bit going forward, so we’ll see what they do with that. Lamelo Ball has returned from an 11-game absence for the Hornets, although there are still lingering concerns with his ankle, but still maybe he can help them start rising. However, with Cade Cunnigham out for the season, the Pistons seem like a lost cause and will probably remain in competition for the top pick.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 28 (last week: 30)
Josh Richardson can be a forgotten player in San Antonio and, at 29 years old, he’s not really on the same timeline as most of this roster. But he’s rarely taking a back seat to the kids when he’s on the floor, and his aggressiveness paid off in the Spurs’ win over Cleveland on Monday. He scored 24 points (on 9-for-13 shooting) in 27 minutes off the bench, with some audacious 3s and tough step-backs included within. Richardson has taken only 25% of his shots, the eighth lowest rate among 205 players with at least 150 field goal attempts, in the paint.
Six of the Spurs’ nine wins have come in two three-game winning streaks. With that Richardson performance — along with Keldon Johnson (24.7 points per game) and a bunch of other guys averaging double-figures — the Spurs scored 118.6 points per 100 possessions over the latest streak (which included two games against top-10 defenses). The Spurs still rank just 28th offensively, but they’re ahead of the Clippers, which is rather amazing.
The streak came to an end with the Spurs’ 30th-ranked defense getting torched by the Blazers on Wednesday, the fifth time this season San Antonio has allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions. (They allowed that much just three times all of last season.) And a fourth-quarter lead was lost with the Heat scoring 17 points on their first nine possessions of the final period in Mexico City on Saturday.
The Spurs have played just three games against the other six teams that have fewer than 12 wins, with one of those being their losing-streak-busting win over the Rockets 11 days ago. They’ll visit Houston and Orlando (having yet to face the Magic) this week, Games 2 and 4 on the four-game trip that began with the Mexico City game.
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 28 (last week: 29)
Big-ticket gift idea: Victor Wembanyama. Personally, I don’t want to see Gregg Popovich go any time soon. It’s absolutely selfish of me. I love Pop, and the San Antonio Spurs without him just seems like a weird idea. So let’s make sure they land Wembanyama in the draft and then they can start building around their next Tim Duncan or David Robinson or whatever you want to call him. Then there’s no way Pop can just get out.
What Hal is getting them at the office: A first-round pick for Jakob Poeltl. We already saw the Spurs flip Thad Young and Derrick White into first-round picks before last trade deadline. Let’s make sure they get another one for Poeltl before he hits free agency.
Why this ranking? Of the...bottom three teams, the Spurs had the best win of the week by taking down Cleveland. They’ve also won three of their last five.
Enzo Flojo, Clutch Points — 28 (last week: 28)
San Antonio had a nice little three-game run bridging Weeks 8 and 9, but then they lost back-to-back against the Blazers and Heat. Keldon Johnson continues to be a revelation for the Spurs, though. He won’t be an All-Star this season, but we cannot scoff at his 21.1 points per game.
Coming up: Mon. 12/19 vs. Houston Rockets; Thurs. 12/22 @ New Orleans Pelicans; Fri. 12/23 @ Orlando Magic
Prediction: 2-1 — I went on the optimistic side of 1.5 last week and it backfired (good thing I’m not into sports gambling), but I’m feeling the holiday spirit and choosing the over again this week, giving the Spurs the benefit of the doubt against their fellow cellar dwellers, but with the way the Pelicans have manhandled them in both meetings so far this season, I don’t see that changing this week.
Happy Holidays to everyone!