Who doesn’t like some high-stakes basketball in November? On Friday night the San Antonio Spurs will play in their first game of the NBA’s In Season Tournament. For a quick recap on how the tournament works, check out Pounding the Rock’s explainer from this summer. The Spurs are in a tough group with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, so every game of group play counts.
The Silver and Black find themselves on a three-game losing streak as they return home to face the Timberwolves. Minnesota has been playing some excellent basketball lately, winning four straight. San Antonio will have to improve their half court offense and perimeter defense if they hope to win their first In Season Tournament game.
San Antonio Spurs (3-5) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-2)
November 10, 2023 | 7 P.M. CT
Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI/KXTN
Spurs injuries: Charle Bediako – Out (G League,) Sidy Cissoko – Out (G League,) Sir’Jabari Rice – Out (G League)
Timberwolves injuries: Jaylen Clark – Out (right achilles,) Luka Garza – Out (G League,) Jordan McLaughlin – Out (right MCL,) Leonard Miller – Out (G League,) Wendell Moore Jr. – Out (G League)
What to watch for
Spurs half court offense
The Spurs have struggled to score in the half court ever since the fourth quarter of the Raptors game on Sunday. They are currently 19th in the NBA in offensive rating (109.6.) In their last game against the New York Knicks, they scored just 105 points, and struggled to get anything going offensively, unless they played up-tempo basketball. The problem has been multifaceted: an injured Devin Vassell, teams keying in on Victor Wembanyama and a lack of three point shooting.
The Spurs are 17th in the NBA in three-point shooting. They shot just 26.5% from three against New York on Wednesday. With Vassell back in the lineup, and Doug McDermott heating up from three, there is a reason to be optimistic that they will start getting more of those shots to fall. Getting Wembanyama involved and in spots to succeed will be a priority too.
The Timberwolves are a buzzsaw on defense. They rank first in the league in defensive rating (100.1) and allow the fewest points per game (101.1.) Rudy Gobert is an all-defense caliber center, Anthony Edwards is improving as a 1-on-1 defender, and they have several lengthy wings who can disrupt opposing offenses. The Spurs will need to play much better offensively if they want to stay in this game.
Guarding the perimeter
As bad as the Spurs offense has been, the defense has been much worse. They are allowing 121.5 points per game (27th in the league,) and teams are shooting 50% from the field against them. The perimeter defense has been a problem, especially guarding the three point line. Opponents are hitting 15.3 deep balls a game, and making them at a 38.3% clip.
The Wolves provide an interesting offensive challenge. Edwards is a star with the ball in his hands. They have multiple position players hitting over 40% of their three-point attempts (they are shooting 37.3% from deep as a team.) Plus, they play two of the league’s best big men, Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns, with one of its most underrated in Naz Reid coming off the bench. In a big game, the Spurs will have a defensive challenge ahead of them.
Wembanyama vs. Gobert
We will have a “gros match” (“big matchup” in French) on our hands Friday night. Wembanyama and Gobert are two of the league’s biggest basketball stars. Emphasis on big. Fun fact, if you took Wemby and Gobert’s wingspans and added them together, they would be as tall as a giraffe. France will be a must-watch team in international play with those two monitoring the paint.
Gobert is one of the few players in the league who can challenge Wembanyama with his length. We saw what a big with length and physicality can do to the rookie when Mitchell Robinson guarded him on Wednesday night. Wembanyama will need to use his speed and touch to find openings in a tough matchup. This is certainly a meeting that the first-year frenchman has been looking forward to.