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 11: The Spurs closed 2022 with a 2-2 week that included two thrilling wins over teams with winning records and a hard-fought battle against the a red-hot Luka Doncic and the Mavs.
There are seemingly four types of games for a rebuilding team: disappointing losses, acceptable losses, satisfying losses, and wins (because a win is a win no matter how you slice it — but yes, some can still be more satisfying than others), and the Spurs hit the superfecta last week. First was the “disappointing loss”, which came via a wire-to-wire blowout against a Brooklyn Nets squad that experienced plenty of early season turmoil but has come together over the last month. While no one expected the Spurs to beat a team that was on an 11-game winning streak on their own court, it’s not very often that fans see these Spurs — whom most describe as a group that plays well above their record — not even be competitive in a game, and this was one of those games.
Next was the “acceptable loss” across the Brooklyn Bridge at Madison Square Garden. Even though the Spurs had gotten a home win against the Knicks the week before, New York is still a more talented team with a winning record, not to mention they had noted Spurs killer Jalen Brunson back from injury. Even though Brunson put up a career-high 38 points, the Spurs showed they weren’t going to let the devastating loss two nights earlier linger in their heads, coming out and fighting down to the wire like they usually do.
Then, it was time for one of the few scheduled wins of the season against the Detroit Pistons. Down arguably their best player in Cade Cunningham for the season (among others), the Spurs likely won’t be catching them at the bottom of the standings, so they might as well take a win and keepthe fighting spirit alive. Despite the announcement before the game that Devin Vassell would be out for the foreseeable future with knee surgery and losing Keldon Johnson before halftime with a pulled hamstring, the equally short-handed Spurs came together as a team and pulled out the comfortable win, led by Tre Jones.
Finally, it was time for the “satisfying loss”. Down Vassell, Johnson and Jakob Poeltl against the best team in the league while on a SEGABABA and coming off short turnaround (for some reason this was a 5:00 tipoff), it felt like another blowout loss was in order, but not for these Spurs. Another full team effort, with eight players scoring in double figures, allowed the Spurs to keep things just close enough to make a final run for the win in the fourth quarter, and they came oh-so-close by tying the game on a Josh Richardson three with 38 seconds left and had a chance to tie or take the lead on their final possession. Clutch-time execution bit them again, but that didn’t stop fans from being proud of the performance they put out given the opponent and circumstances.
A quick look at the league standings says even if the Spurs suffer greatly while missing Devin Vassell until at least the All-Star break, they’re going to be hard pressed to out-tank the three teams
ahead of behind them in the standings. It’s pretty undeniable that the Pistons are the worst team in the league. The Hornets aren’t in any hurry to improve and give their top 16-protected pick to the Spurs (not that it seems likely at this point even if they tried to start winning), and who knows what is happening with Houston and their current tailspin. The Spurs just need to catch up fall back to one of them to share the top lottery odds, but they’re currently at a three-game disadvantage.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 27 (last week: 27)
OffRtg: 110.3 (27) DefRtg: 118.8 (30) NetRtg: -8.5 (30) Pace: 101.3 (10)
Devin Vassell was doing some good things for the Spurs offensively; His 48.3% from mid-range ranks fifth among the 31 players with at least 100 attempts, and his 47.3% on catch-and-shoot 3s ranked fifth among 113 players with at least 100 attempts. And it stinks that his development is stalled by a knee injury for which he’ll have arthroscopic surgery this week. His deep pull-ups, for example, could use some work; while Vassell has shot 46.5% on pull-up 2s, he’s 11-for-52 (21.2%, worst among 70 players with at least 50 attempts) on pull-up 3s.
But in regard to wins and losses, Vassell’s absence probably isn’t moving the needle much. The Spurs have been outscored by almost 12 points per 100 possessions (with terrible defensive numbers) in his 907 minutes on the floor. They’re 8-21 in the games he’s played (including 5-13 when all five starters have been available) and now 5-6 otherwise.
The Spurs are now without Vassell and Keldon Johnson, who suffered a hamstring injury early in their win over the Pistons on Friday. They trailed that game after Johnson’s injury, but had a big second half behind a strong performance from Tre Jones. And the they’re getting really close to their first win (they’re now 0-25) in a game they trailed by double-digits. They erased two double-digit deficits in New York on Wednesday, but committed a five-second, inbounds violation when they had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds. And they came back from 15 down to tie the Celtics in the final minute on Sunday, but Jeremy Sochan missed a 3 for the lead with 10 seconds left.
The Spurs erased two double-digits deficits and were up one late in the fourth quarter in their first meeting (Nov. 9) against the Grizzlies, but lost in overtime when Vassell missed a pull-up 3 at the buzzer. Games 2 and 3 of the season series are this week in Memphis, and the Spurs (1-1 in rest-advantage games thus far) will have a rest advantage on Monday.
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 27 (last week: 27)
2021-22 win total: 34
Preseason over/under: 22.5
What’s it looking like? The Spurs started to peel back things last season. Then they made sure they traded away Dejounte Murray to embrace their lottery opportunities. If you bet under 22.5 wins, you’re sweating this a bit. Their 5-2 start to the season put things a bit out of balance with that idea. They’re on pace to clear this over/under by a few wins, but their pace since the good start is more in line with their over/under. I think they send off another veteran and finish under.
Confidence on the over: 6.5/10
Enzo Flojo, Clutch Points — 28 (last week: 28)
Losing four of their last five just seems par for the course in San Antonio. That’s the sad reality that Gregg Popovich finds himself in. They might also be big-time sellers in the trade deadline as they want to stock up on draft assets.
Prediction: 2-2 — While I just don’t see a win coming in the miniseries against the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, I do see the Spurs upsetting a Warriors team that might have Steph Curry back but has a horrific 3-16 road record in what will hopefully be the largest crowd in NBA history in a sold out Alamodome. And while the Sacramento Kings are a pleasant surprise this season and look well on their way to breaking the longest playoff drought in the NBA, they have struggled of late, and the Spurs have had success at home against teams with middling records this season.