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Spurs Week in Review: Disastrous defense returns in 0-4 week

Even a rebuilding team has no excuse for giving up 133 points per game.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!

Week 12: The Spurs covered the whole spectrum of game types in one week, with a disappointing loss, acceptable loss, satisfying loss, and a win.

Week 13: 0-4 (13-31, 27th in NBA) — 113-121 L @ Memphis Grizzles; 129-135 L @ Memphis Grizzlies; 113-144 L vs. Golden State Warriors; 119-132 L vs. Sacramento Kings

That was not a good week of basketball for one glaring reason: defense. The Spurs already have a historically bad defense and point-differential, but any NBA team that gives up an average of 133 points per game across four games deserves criticism. Back in early December, I wrote that the most maddening part of the Spurs’ horrific November slump was how bad their defense was, in large part because their scheme of double-teaming often leaves shooters wide open, and this young squad lacks the discipline to keep rotating.

That problem became extremely obvious again in three of their four games last week, beginning with a mini-series in Memphis (which was actually closer than I expected). The first game was a wash with both teams missing their top scorers, but the Grizzlies unsurprisingly had more depth to make up for it. But beginning with the second match-up, with Ja Morant returning to the line-up, a pretty good week on offense was wasted by that horrific defense. Double-team Morant (who still had 38 points)? Get burned by Desmond Bane and Jaron Jackson Jr, and the theme would continue from there.

Next, was Home at the Dome vs. the Warriors in front of an NBA record crowd of 68,323. While they had Steph Curry back from an 11-game absence, they were still the worst road team in the league with 3-16 record at the time. Between the crowd and Warriors’ road woes, I at least expected a competitive, exciting game. Instead, the pressure to perform seemed get the best of the young Spurs, while the Warriors relished in the moment and took advantage of a confused defense. The Spurs never had a chance after giving up over 40 points in both the second and third quarters, and the fourth was just extended garbage time.

Finally, the surprisingly 4th-seeded Kings visited town, and while the Spurs held the lead at halftime of an entertaining game, Sacramento became just another in a long line of teams that took advantage by hitting the open threes given to them and separated themselves from a Spurs team that is now 0-29 when trailing by double-digits this season. This squad will not have the fire power to outshoot high octane offenses on most nights, especially while Devin Vassell is out, so they must continue to work on improving the defensive side. They have the personnel (at least theoretically), now they need the discipline.

Lottery Odds

So far, the “upside” of losing isn’t paying off for the Spurs as well as some may have hoped, as the Pistons, Hornets and Rockets (10 straight losses!) continue to be worse. As a result, Even an 0-4 week got the Spurs no closer to a bottom three spot to share the top lottery odds. If there is an upside, the barrier between them and the 26th team (Orlando Magic) continues to gradually grow.


John Schuhmann, — 27 (last week: 27)

OffRtg: 110.4 (27) DefRtg: 119.5 (30) NetRtg: -9.1 (30) Pace: 101.7 (9)

The Spurs set an attendance record on Friday, but the cavernous Alamodome and it’s non-standard shooting background didn’t help their defense, which allowed the Warriors to register their most efficient offensive performance of the season (144 points on 110 possessions), topping the mark (132 on 101) from their first game against the Spurs. The Kings’ performance (back at the AT&T Center) on Sunday was even more efficient (132 on 97) and made the Spurs 0-3 in their three best offensive games of the season.

You read that right: the Spurs have scored at least 124 per 100 in three games, and they’ve lost all three. Their defense has now allowed 6.5 more points per 100 possessions than the league average (113.0), what would be the eighth biggest differential in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.

The offense hasn’t been as bad, but it certainly hasn’t been very potent, especially because the Spurs don’t shoot many 3s. They’ve taken 34.5% of their shots, the league’s fourth lowest rate, from 3-point range. That rate is below 30% over their last 14 games, and they’ve been outscored by 12.4 points per game from beyond the arc over that stretch.

The Spurs have two more high-profile opponents in town as they wrap their four-game homestand this week. The Nets and Clippers are responsible for two of the (league-leading) seven games this season in which the Spurs have never held a lead.

Zach Harper, The Athletic — 29 (last week: 27)

First-quarter grade: D+

Halfway grade: D

I like a lot of the young talent on the Spurs, but they don’t really have anybody who projects to be more than a high-quality role player. That’s fine too. The point of tanking for this draft is to get that next star player for the franchise. There isn’t a lot of drama with these Spurs games, and it would be nice to see them more competitive in these losses.

Prediction update: The Spurs don’t win more than 22 games this season. … They are currently on pace for 24 wins, but a lot of that is because of their 5-2 start. I think they sink to a 20-win season by the end.

Enzo Flojo, Clutch Points — 28 (last week: 28)

It’s much of the same in San Antonio. The Spurs have, in fact, lost eight of their last nine games. The “tank” is on, as they say. Oh well, at least they set a new NBA regular season game attendance record with 68,323 watching live at the Alamodome a few days ago.

Coming up: Tues. 1/17 vs. Brooklyn Nets; Fri. 1/20 vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Prediction: 1-1 — Look at that: a relaxing week! It’s been a while since the Spurs (and fans) have had one of those. Even though the Nets are without Kevin Durant for at least another week, I don’t see the Spurs ending their losing streak in that game, especially with noted Spurs-killer Kyrie Irving coming to town. As for the Clippers, while they have Kawhi Leonard back from injury and Paul George is day-to-day, they have struggled of late, going 3-7 over their last 10 games. Maybe a well rested Spurs squad that has had a knack for taking advantage of middling teams at home can get a similar win again.