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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans

Can the Silver and Black outlast a familiar foe to keep their playoff dreams alive?

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs have finally arrived at the end of another grueling 82-game regular season. And while they didn’t lock up a guaranteed spot in the Western Conference playoffs, they will have another shot to punch their ticket into the postseason when they face the New Orleans Pelicans in round one of the play-in tournament.

As the tenth seed, the good guys must now travel into enemy territory for a single-elimination contest in front of what is sure to be a noisy Smoothie King Center. Though the Silver and Black went 3-1 versus their Southwest Division rivals, both squads are as healthy as they have been all year, and they have a clean slate heading into tonight.

San Antonio Spurs (34-48) at New Orleans Pelicans (36-46)

April 13, 2021 | 8:30 PM CST

Watch: ESPN | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

DraftKings Odds: Spurs +5.5, O/U 226

Spurs Injuries: Doug McDermott (Out — Ankle), Romeo Langford (Probable — Hamstring)

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

What to Watch For

  • Dejounte Murray looked a little rusty during a tuneup against Dallas in the regular-season finale after missing five consecutive games because of an upper respiratory illness. Hopefully, the first-time All-Star will be 100% for this single-elimination matchup with the Pelicans. Murray had substantial shooting woes versus San Antonio’s divisional adversary this season, with his 31-point outburst in February standing out as the only bright spot. But in the other three games, Dejounte only averaged 14.0 points while going an atrocious 16-of-50 (32%) from the field. Rookie defensive savant Herb Jones, springy shot swatter Jaxson Hayes, and pesky pickpocketer Jose Alvarado have made life challenging for Murray. He has responded to the added attention by getting his teammates involved, though someone else must rise to the occasion to help the sixth-year playmaker push the Silver and Black past New Orleans.
  • CJ McCollum has been the driving force behind New Orleans going 13-10 after the All-Star Break. The 30-year-old combo guard has averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 49.3% from the field and 39.4% from three-point-land since joining the Pelicans at the trade deadline. What makes these numbers so fantastic? This career-best production has come with Brandon Ingram on the sidelines for more than half of his brief tenure in the Big Easy. But the All-Star forward will suit up for this matchup, giving San Antonio another explosive scorer to contain if they want to walk away victorious. Dejounte Murray and Devin Vassell will probably spend the most time on McCollum. And don’t be shocked if they trade possessions with Josh Richardson and Lonnie Walker IV defending Ingram.
  • Jonas Valanciunas versus Jakob Poeltl is perhaps the most consequential positional battle heading into this win-or-go-home game. Jonas recorded 23 points, 23 rebounds, and three blocks against San Antonio in the play-in last season, undoubtedly getting the better of Poeltl. Jakob was by no means a slouch, but his ten points, ten boards, five blocks, and five fouls were insignificant next to the stat-line from his then-Grizzlies counterpart. Poeltl will have a chance to redeem himself on Wednesday night, and his work starts on the boards. Valanciunas is among the best offensive glass cleaners in the NBA, and his sturdy boxouts and relentless pursuit of the rock give New Orleans several second-chance opportunities. Though the Silver and Black have made strides on the defensive end, teams are most vulnerable when scrambling to recover. San Antonio can’t afford to extend possessions by giving up multiple offensive rebounds, so anticipate head coach Gregg Popovich turning to Zach Collins alongside Jakob to combat the imposing two-big lineup of Jaxson Hayes and Valanciunas.
  • Depth might be another significant factor in determining who advances to the second round of the play-in tournament for a primetime date with Los Angeles. The Spurs probably possess a slim edge in that department. Tre Jones, Lonnie Walker IV, Josh Richardson, and Zach Collins provided San Antonio with one of the more dependable second units in the league after the All-Star Break. But Jose Alvarado, Devonte’ Graham, Trey Murphy III, Willy Hernangomez, and Larry Nance Jr. were also in a fantastic rhythm to close out the season. While the good guys own better second-stringers in their backcourt, New Orleans holds an indisputable advantage with their frontcourt reserves.
  • Keldon Johnson looked like a youngster on the verge of a breakout at the end of the season, averaging 22.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on stellar .480/.379/.804 shooting splits over his last nine games. Although a good portion of this production came against flimsier squads like Portland and Houston, the third-year forward also put forth extraordinary numbers versus Denver, Minnesota, Dallas, Memphis, and New Orleans. The most promising part of his late-season eruption was the notable development as an off-the-dribble decision-maker and rim finisher. The good guys will need this iteration of Keldon Johnson to show up if they hope to eliminate New Orleans, and there’s no reason he can’t establish himself as the next late-first-round success story to come out of San Antonio.

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

PtR’s Gamethread 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.