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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets

Keldon Johnson returns, Wembanyama sits in bout with in-state rivals.

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Spurs preseason has played out like an experiment, more than a team looking to shake the rust off in preparation for the regular season. We have yet to see the team fully healthy, and therefore only have broken images of what they will look like come late October. That trend will continue on Monday with Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell and Tre Jones all sitting out their first game of the preseason.

On Monday, the Spurs will see the return of their leading scorer, Keldon Johnson. San Antonio’s 120-104 win over the Miami Heat saw the return of Jeremy Sochan, who spent a lot of time as the Spurs lead initiator of the offense. He had an effective game going for 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in 25 minutes of play.

The Spurs will lean on their depth in a matchup against a revamped Rockets squad who look transformed under new head coach Ime Udoka. Houston has moved the ball and locked in defensively more effectively than last season. Their promising young guard, Jalen Green, will miss the game with a toe injury.

San Antonio Spurs (1-1) vs. Houston Rockets (2-0)

October 16, 2023 | 7 P.M. CT

Watch: CW35 | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Khem Birch – Questionable (undisclosed), Victor Wembanyama – Out (rest), Devin Vassell – Out (rest), Tre Jones – Out (rest)

Rockets injuries: Jalen Green – Out (toe)

What to watch for

The “by committee” approach

Last game we saw the debut of “point-Sochan” which netted mixed results. Sochan looked slightly uncomfortable bringing the ball up the floor under pressure. He struggled to find offensive rhythm in a role he hasn’t been asked to play before. Defensively it wasn’t seamless either. Even though the Spurs had a clear size and skill advantaged, they still allowed the Heat to crush them on the glass and cut them apart with screens.

Sochan in particular had a tough time navigating all of the ball screens and handoffs. Two things to watch for with Sochan playing “point:” his ball-handling, and how he fights through or around opposing screens.

With other initiators out, expect Johnson and Zach Collins to take on playmaking duties. Collins especially has operated as a playmaker at the top of the key. He won’t be the one bringing the ball up, but could be used as an initiator of offense in the half court. With no clear point guard on Monday, expect the by committee approach on full display.

Improved rebounding

The Spurs were, to quote Gregg Popovic, “godawful” on the glass against Miami. The Heat were routinely sending multiple bodies to the offensive glass while San Antonio was leaking out for easy transition buckets. Too often was it solely on Wembanyama or Charles Bassey to secure a board, rather than a full team rebounding effort. That led to the Heat grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and out rebounding the Spurs by 15.

Getting Collins back will certainly help. Johnson is another physical player who can do work on the boards. Just as the Spurs are taking a by committee approach to their offensive load, they should be doing the same on the glass.

Who steps up

The reality of the NBA season is that you won’t have 100% of the roster for 100% of the games. Rest and minor bumps and bruises will hold out key players from time-to-time. There may be a time this season when both Wembanyama and Vassell sit out. Someone will need to step up.

It’s just the preseason, but opportunity is opportunity. Sochan, Collins and Johsnon have showcased the ability to handle the scoring load, but who else steps up with key players out? Malaki Branham has shown the capability of taking on an increased offensive load in spurts. This is a good opportunity for Cedi Osman to operate with the ball in his hands a bit more. It’s also a great chance for the younger Spurs like Dominick Barlow and Blake Wesley to build upon their successful preseason performances thus far.