The Spurs will have a tall task to start 2023 by visiting the hottest team in the league right now. The Nets have won 11 straight games, climbing all the way to second in the East despite a slow start filled with drama. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are looking like the deadly scoring duo everyone projected them to be when they first teamed up in Brooklyn and Ben Simmons has played himself back into shape and is shining on defense. Around them, there is a solid supporting cast ready to provide shooting and length. They have truly looked like a contender recently.
Things aren’t as rosy in San Antonio, but the end of the year saw the Spurs resemble the version of themselves that started the season off surprising people and not the iteration that only saw them win one game in the entirety of November. Health has played a huge part in the turnaround but the energy and focus have been good in general in the past few games, even in losses. The Silver and Black doesn’t have the star power of the Nets or any of the teams in win-now mode, but at their best can make up for it with depth, pace and physicality.
The Nets are understandably favored to win but these Spurs can be tougher to crack than many give them credit for when they are at their best, so it could be an interesting matchup.
San Antonio Spurs (12-24) vs. Brooklyn Nets (24-12)
January 2, 2023 | 6:30 PM CST
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs: Dominick Barlow (Out — Two-Way), Charles Bassey (Out — Two-Way), Blake Wesley (Out — On Assignment), Keita Bates-Diop (Out — Non-COVID Illness), Devin Vassell (Questionable — Knee)
Nets: Alondes Williams (Out — Two-Way), David Duke Jr. (Out — Two-Way), Kessler Edwards (Out — On Assignment), Joe Harris (Probable — Knee)
Can the Spurs stop the Nets’ stars?
Gregg Popovich joked that the Spurs were going to try to keep Luka Doncic below 50 points before the game against the Mavericks. Doncic got 51. Before that, Julius Randle dropped 41 on them and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a tidy 28 on 14 shots to go with eight assists. One of the problems this young Spurs team has is that it lacks stoppers at the point of attack and doesn’t have yet the type of team chemistry to make for it with timely rotations. The result often is an opponent star going off on them.
The Nets not only have Durant to torment the Spurs with but also Kyrie Irving, who has shined against San Antonio in the past, even when the team was good on defense. If those two are not kept in check by their defenders, the only hope would be for the rest of the Nets to miss the open looks that will surely result from the double teams and panicking rotations that will inevitably come. Unfortunately, the Nets have the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the league, so it’s hard to imagine that happening. Keeping Durant and Irving from fully going supernova will be a must if the Spurs want a shot at stealing the win.
The Spurs need to dominate the glass
For all their strengths, the Nets have one glaring weakness: their work on the glass. They rank in the bottom 10 in the league in defensive rebound percentage and second-chance points allowed, so it’s clear they can be hurt by a good offensive rebounding team. The Spurs fit the bill, as they rank sixth in the league in second-chance points per game and offensive rebound percentage. Jakob Poeltl in particular is elite at getting his own team’s misses, ranking seventh in the league in offensive rebounds per game, so he could really give Brooklyn trouble.
The Nets not being a good offensive rebounding team could also help the Spurs, as securing boards easily gives the Silver and Black a way to push the pace and make up for their struggles in the half-court. San Antonio loves to try to get quick buckets after opponent misses, ranking fourth in the league in average time before a shot following a defensive rebound, according to InPredictable, and does a decent job of scoring off those opportunities. If the Spurs can dominate the glass like the numbers suggest they could, it should help them massively on both ends.
For the Nets fans’ perspective, please visit Nets Daily.
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