The San Antonio Spurs obliterated the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers from the first tip to the final buzzer as they secured up back-to-back wins for the first time since February. Not only did they rain threes at the Moda Center, but the good guys also held their downtrodden foe to 38.3% from the field while forcing 16 turnovers.
Dejounte Murray paced the Silver and Black with 28 points, six rebounds, and seven assists as Keldon Johnson added 26 points, four boards, and a steal. Jakob Poeltl logged 16 points, nine rebounds, and a career-high six blocks as he flirted with a triple-double. Devin Vassell also had 16 points, four boards, five assists, and two steals.
Head coach Gregg Popovich and company have steadily climbed towards the finals spots in the play-in tournament over the last couple of weeks as they watched ineptitude sweep their fellow Western Conference bottom-dwellers. A favorable closing schedule awaits San Antonio, but can they string together enough victories to taste postseason basketball?
- Injuries to Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Josh Hart, Eric Bledsoe, Joe Ingles, and Jusuf Nurkic have made it easier for the Blazers to tank the rest of the schedule for more ping pong balls in the upcoming lottery. Better odds at landing a top-four pick in the top-loaded 2022 NBA Draft might be worth it for a franchise that has plunged from the Western Conference Finals to the bottom of the standings in three years. However, watching a borderline three-hour-long blowout against third-stringers and two-way contract signees wasn’t compelling entertainment. Was it nice to see Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson build confidence while crawling another game closer towards the play-in tournament? Sure, but the level of competition on the other end of the court made drawing any genuine conclusions almost laughable. Any reasonably sympathetic human being probably felt awful for head coach Chauncey Billups once the final buzzer reverberated around the Moda Center. Portland has lost an NBA record 12 games by at least 30 points, and their opponents have outscored them by 293 points since the All-Star Break. Even the 29th and 28th place Rockets and Thunder don’t have a lower combined net rating (-291) than the Trail Blazers over that stretch.
- You might have thought Steph Curry was out on the court for the Spurs if you squinted your eyes during the final minute of the opening quarter, but that was Dejounte Murray splitting the cords for three consecutive three-pointers. Though those heat-checks would be his lone triples of the game on Wednesday night, how the All-Star point guard generated them is very encouraging. Dejounte stepped into the first three-ball off a Zach Collins screen. He drained the second from the D in the Moda Center logo while trying to go two-for-one. And the last trey came on a stepback after the six-four floor general lulled Brandon Williams to sleep with a few size-up moves. Each of his three-pointers was of the pull-up variety. Considering Murray was 29-of-107 (27.1%) on off-the-dribble threes heading into the matchup, this was an encouraging sign of his willingness to expand his range. And broadening his horizons beyond the arc is arguably one of the most crucial keys to unlocking his scoring and playmaking potential. Can you read too much into a first-quarter barrage against the worst roster in the association? Probably not, though any sign of progress from Dejounte is worth fans holding out hope.
- Despite sitting 15 games below .500 with nine contests remaining on their regular-season schedule, San Antonio still has a shot at sneaking into the Western Conference play-in tournament. The Spurs sit two games behind Los Angeles and one-and-a-half games behind New Orleans, and both of those teams could slip out of contention in the coming weeks. The Lakers have won a single road game since January 1st and are 2-11 when LeBron James doesn’t score 50 points after the All-Star Break. And the Slowtime Lakers have another six matchups outside of Crypto.com Arena as LeBron nurses a knee injury. As for the Pelicans, they have plenty of motivation to win. Adding CJ McCollum at the trade deadline signaled a clear intention to compete, but it came at the expense of a top-four protected 2022 first-round pick. The Silver and Black have dates versus the Pelicans, Rockets, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers (x2) before facing the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Warriors, and Mavericks to close things out. Gregg Popovich and crew are in control of their destiny, and while their last four opponents are daunting on paper, they could have their playoff seeding locked up and nothing to play for by the time they meet the Spurs. Buckle up for a roller coaster of emotions as the 2-1-0 holds their collective breath for postseason hoops.