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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs snapped their losing streak and manhandled the disconnected Houston Rockets on Monday night, putting some distance between themselves and last place in the Western Conference. A terrific outing has the good guys back on track, and they have a perfect chance to pick up a dub against the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans.

Though these Southwest Division rivals are on the opposite ends of their rebuilds, illness and injuries have leveled the playing field for head coach Gregg Popovich and company. The Silver and Black will need more ping-pong balls to find a generational talent like Zion Williamson, but a victory here or there helps keep morale up around the team and fanbase.

San Antonio Spurs (10-20) at New Orleans Pelicans (18-12)

December 22, 2022 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs: Dominick Barlow (Out — Two-Way), Charles Bassey (Out — Two-Way), Blake Wesley (Out — On Assignment), Keldon Johnson (Doubtful — Hamstring), Romeo Langford (Probable — Elbow), Jakob Poeltl (Probable — Knee)

Pelicans: E.J. Liddell (Out — Knee), Brandon Ingram (Out — Toe), Zion Williamson (Out — Health and Safety Protocols), Dereon Seabron (Out — Two-Way), Kira Lewis Jr. (Out — On Assignment), Larry Nance Jr. (Questionable — Achilles)

What To Watch For

  • The Spurs haven’t received many lucky breaks from the basketball gods this season, but for the first time in what feels like forever, they will enter a game with the upper hand on the injury report. Though Keldon Johnson being doubtful to suit up tonight unquestionably throws a wrench into San Antonio’s already so-so half-court attack, the absence of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram will make their lives easier on the defensive end. The All-Star forwards account for 72.2 points per game between their scoring and assists, meaning a usually potent Pelicans offense must find a way to replace 61.5% of their nightly production. New Orleans still has a walking bucket in CJ McCollum, a double-double machine in Jonas Valanciunas, and a platoon of sharpshooters, roughly the same squad that knocked the Silver and Black out of the first round of the play-in tournament less than a year ago. While Gregg Popovich and crew are better on paper, at least in this matchup, they must approach their shorthanded opponent with an appropriate level of fear and respect.
  • San Antonio handed Devin Vassell the keys to their offense when Keldon Johnson sat out against the Rockets with hamstring tightness earlier this week. And they hesitate to call his number again if Johnson isn’t ready to return when they visit New Orleans. The third-year swingman dropped 29 and 26 points on impressive efficiency in two contests as the leading man with Keldon on the sidelines, displaying his spectacular development as a scorer. Here are a couple of eye-popping numbers that spotlight the rapid evolution of his arsenal. Vassell is one of eight players attempting at least seven threes per game and knocking down 40% of them. He is also one of nine players taking at least four midrange jumpers per game while making them at a better than 45% clip. As you might anticipate, perennial All-NBA candidates like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan, and Donovan Mitchell are among the names that make up these exclusive statistical categories, but only Vassell belongs to both cohorts. Hopefully, Spurs fans get another chance to watch Devin go to work with the ball in his hands against a Pelicans team that ranks sixth in defensive efficiency (110 DRtg) this season.

For the Pelicans fans’ perspective, please visit The Bird Writes.

The Game Thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action on PtR’s Twitter feed.