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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The Spurs turn their attention to another game with play-in implications

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After coasting their way to a blowout victory over the blatantly tanking Portland Trailblazers, the Spurs will need to buckle down and be prepared for a tough fight from a Pelicans team that took them to the woodshed in their last match-up.

For all points and purposes, this will likely serve as a must-win contest for both teams, as they fight for a chance at the NBA Play-in Contest. Having almost certainly lost their 1st round pick to Portland (New Orleans gets to keep it in the unlikely event that it ends up in the top 4), the Pelicans are surging for the play-in or bust, and a victory here will all but guarantee them a berth. (Whether successfully doing so will help them keep Zion Williamson remains to be seen, but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying)

The Spurs, on the other hand, will likely have no real path to the play-in should they lose the season series to the Pelicans. And, of course, there’s an element of personal pride here in trying to avoid losing a season series to a division rival.

Before their last contest, the Spurs had handily dispatched the Pelicans by double digits twice. That they were absolutely shellacked in the one game that Brandon Ingram did not play in against the Spurs, is a bit of a conundrum, but also highly indicative of the sort of season the Spurs have had against teams that have supposedly been at a disadvantage.

There’s just not a lot separating these two team as of late. Both teams are middling in offensive rating (16th and 20th), defensive rating (17th and 18th), net rating (18th and 19th), and true shooting percentage (22nd and 23rd). The Pelicans are significantly better on the boards (3rd) and in limiting opponents 2nd chance points (5th), while the Spurs lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and lowest turnover percentage.

With Ingram likely out once again for this one, it would seem that the Spurs have been given a slight advantage. But considering how that last game went, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in that being the case.

I’d expect an absolute dogfight in this one unless the Spurs come out overconfident from their fools-gold rout of the Trailblazers, or PATFO suddenly decides to lean into the tank.

Should make for some good basketball, though.

San Antonio Spurs (29-44) at New Orleans Pelicans (30-42)

March 26, 2022 | 4:00 PM CT

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

Spurs Injuries: Doug McDermott - Out (Ankle), Lonnie Walker IV - Day-to-Day (Back), Romeo Langford - Questionable (Hamstring), Devin Vassell - Questionable (Achilles)

Pelicans Injuries: Brandon Ingram - Questionable (Hamstring), Kira Lewis Jr. - Out (Knee), Zion Williamson - Out (Foot)

What to watch for:

  • Keldon Johnson: New No. 2 Scoring Option: As much has been (deservedly) made of Lonnie Walker and Josh Richardson’s recent shooting streaks, it’s getting hard to ignore the tear that Keldon Johnson has been on. Between Doug McDermott’s season-ending injury and Derrick White’s trade exit, Johnson’s been asked to carry an ever bigger scoring load, and he has delivered. Over the last 10 games Keldon is averaging 21 points (5 points higher than his season average) on comparable shooting splits from his more tertiary role earlier this year. His rebounding and assist averages are creeping up as well, and his defensive stats appear to be stable in spite of the increase in energy that’s he’s expending on the offensive end. In short, Keldon Johnson appears to be continuing to grow as a player, even throughout the course of the season. And while the Spurs will surely look to shore up their scoring options via the draft or free agency, it’s good to know that Keldon has this in his bag of tricks —just in case.
  • More Minutes for Joshua Primo: So far this season Josh Primo has played 729 minutes, which doesn’t seem like a particularly impressive total when compared to the somewhat-recent rookie seasons of Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, or George Hill (all of whom played north of 1200 minutes), or even the very recent rookie season of Devin Vassell (1,056). But in the wake of injuries and trades, the Spurs appear to be determined to carve out more playing time for their most recent lottery pick. In the last ten games Primo’s minutes have ballooned to just shy of 26 minutes per contest (25.9), bringing his per-game average up to just shy of 18 minutes (17.8), which is already a higher per-game average than Hill and Vassell, and gives Primo an outside chance at matching the per-game minutes of Manu Ginobili’s rookie season. What that means exactly is unclear, but it would be the highest number of minutes-per-game for a rookie since Leonard’s first year, which is definitely interesting. Particularly since Primo is quite a bit younger than all of the previously mentioned players were during their rookie seasons. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to get to watch more of his frequently dazzling offensive flashes, but historically this is a very good sign for players in the PATFO era, so hold onto your butts, because there’s a strong chance that the front office thinks this kid could be very, very good.

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

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