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What we learned from the Spurs’ win over the Pelicans

The Spurs might make the play-in after all.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

“Not sure anybody really played well the last time we played the Pelicans,” co-commentator Sean Elliott said when Josh Primo had started the scoring for the Spurs from the charity stripe in Saturday’s game. Sean was putting it mildly. But what a difference a week makes!

That doesn’t mean the Spurs’ performance was the complete opposite of their non-performance eight days ago. In fact, they started slow, only scoring 22 points in the first quarter while conceding 32. But they picked things up with a very good second quarter, they kept things close in the third, and they scrambled to win the fourth quarter as well the game by four points.

With the tanking Rockets the final opponent in their four-game road trip, the Silver & Black not only look to sweep their road trip, they’re also looking at a realistic chance of making the play-in. With eight games remaining for both teams, the Spurs are right now only one game behind the Pelicans — and the good guys own the tiebreaker!

Takeaways

  • If the Spurs make the play-in, they’ll need a much better performance from their star point guard. Though he somewhat made up for it with eight trips to the free-throw line, hitting on seven, Dejounte shot an abysmal four from 19 from the field. His performance was a reminder that not every triple double is a good triple double. Still, with triples doubles nearly the status quo, what I liked about his game yesterday was him continuing to take off-the-dribble threes. And though he went zero from five from beyond the arc, it’s that skill that could maybe turn all-star Dejounte into superstar Dejounte. How many times have I thought he was done developing? More times than I care to remember. But I believe he still hasn’t reached his ceiling.
  • If the Spurs make the play-in, they’ll need Keldon “Gorilla” Johnson to be that clear-cut 20-ppg second option he has become since the departure of Derrick White. In his 17 outings since, Keldon has averaged 19.7 points per game. They might also need him to make a bit more than 36 percent from roughly seven three-point attempts per game, though that clip is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. I was made aware in the comments section this week, wondering what Keldon’s role on a winning team could be, that, judging by his “Big Body”, he could turn into some sort of P.J. Tucker on the defensive end. It’s certainly too early to expect him to be that in the hypothetical play-in game(s). But I must admit I’m absolutely in love with that Keldon Johnson on offense plus P.J. Tucker on defense type of player. That might never turn out to be the case. But since Keldon is only in his age 22 season, there’s plenty of time for him to develop in that two-way “Mustang”.
  • If the Spurs make the play-in, they’ll need Jakob Poeltl to be exactly who he is. Because other than free-throw as well as long-distance shooting, Jakob has turned into a big man so reliable that basically any NBA franchise can only want. He scores with so much ease around the rim that I think his usage of below 20 percent is too low. And he’s such a smooth distributor and also dribbler from the top of the arch that it’s hard to believe he measures 7’1. The fact that the Spurs get another year from that guy at below 10 million is a tremendous stroke of luck.
  • If the Spurs make the play-in, with Lonnie Walker maybe still out, they’ll need Josh Richardson to continue his fine form. Though he missed seven threes in a row in the win over the Blazers, he is the Spurs’ hottest long-distance shooter right now, hitting three threes in each of his last four games. And though he’s not close to the defender Derrick White was for the Spurs, he will have to contribute defensively. Dejounte, as the first ballhandling, playmaking and scoring option can’t contribute as he used to on the defensive end. And Devin Vassell, though not in yesterday’s game, still looks a bit overzealous defending out on the perimeter. Josh, by comparison, is a much calmer perimeter defender.
  • If the Spurs make the play-in, they’ll need to find rotations that work. The line-up that concluded the first quarter – Dejounte, Tre Jones, Joe Wieskamp, Keldon, and Zach Collins –, clearly didn’t. They conceded ten points in less than two minutes. The question is: Who can be in an eight- or nine-man rotation in a play-in or playoff setting? Certainly Zach Collins, who, if he can stay healthy, could easily turn into one of those fabled “Spurs’ reclamation projects.” Are Josh and Tre ready for such a setting? I’m not sure.

What I’m sure of though: If the Spurs make the playoffs, anyone in the rotation in the play-in will have to perform to such an extent that co-commentator Sean Elliott can say: “Everybody really played well.”