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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets

San Antonio takes a franchise-record losing streak into Houston for a rivalry game.

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

With a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, the San Antonio Spurs are now tied for the longest losing streak in franchise history at 16 games. Over the course of the losing streak the Spurs have blown several big leads. They did so once again against the Bulls, losing 121-112 despite holding a double digit lead in the first half. One more loss would makethe 2023-24 Spurs the sole owners of the franchise’s longest losing streak.

They’ll face an improving Houston Rockets squad on the road. In their first matchup this season, the Spurs defeated the Rockets in overtime, 126-122. It was a good game for Victor Wembanyama and Devin Vassell, who scored 21 and 25 points respectively. The Rockets have become one of the NBA’s best defensive units (3rd in defensive rating) under Ime Udoka’s tutelage. The Spurs’ struggling offense will need their stars to deliver once again in a tough road matchup.

San Antonio Spurs (3-18) at Houston Rockets (10-9)

December 11, 2023 | 7 P.M. CT

Watch: Bally | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Dominick Barlow – Questionable (G League,) Charles Bassey – Questionable (G League,) Charles Bediako – Out (G League,) Sidy Cissoko – Questionable (G League,) Sir’Jabari Rice – Out (G League,) Blake Wesley – Questionable (G League)

Rockets injuries: Dillon Brooks – Questionable (illness,) Tari Eason – Questionable (left leg,) Nate Hinton – Out (G League,) Victor Oladipo – Out (left patellar tendon,) Jermaine Samuels Jr. – Out (G League,) Cam Whitmore – Out (G League)

What to watch for

Avoiding a third quarter collapse

The Spurs have struggled immensely in the third quarter during this 16-game losing streak. San Antonio has been outscored by 146 points in the third. That’s the worst in the NBA by a 64-point margin. In a post-practice interview, Zach Collins says improving their performance out of halftime is a focus for the team.

Monday’s game is against a chippy rival in Houston. Maybe the Spurs will be extra motivated to break the streak against the in-state foe. They’ll need to score the ball more in the third if they want to compete. The Spurs offense has broken down out of halftime. Finding sets and actions that create good looks early in the third would help them maintain momentum against a good defensive team.

The Alperen Sengun dilemma

The Rockets have one of the best young big men in the NBA. Alperen Sengun is averaging 20.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists this season. He’s been great as a passer and a low post scorer. The last time the Spurs played Houston Sengun put up a monster stat line of 25 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists on a combination of Zach Collins and Wembanyama.

Now that Wembanyama has taken over starting center duties from Collins, it will be on the rookie to shut down the opposing big man. Wemby did a decent job on Nikola Vucevic in the Bulls game, despite a strength disadvantage. Once again he will need to be disciplined against Sengun’s flurry of fakes to contain the Rockets’ leading scorer.

Defending the paint

Similarly, the Spurs will need to shut off the paint in order to stop the Rockets offensive attack. In their last contest, the Rockets scored a whopping 76 points in the paint against San Antonio.

Houston plays a similar offensive style to Chicago. They are methodical and want to get the ball inside to Sengun. They are middle-of-the-pack in three-point shooting and are 28th in the NBA in pace. San Antonio has allowed teams to get to the basket far too often, leading to open kick outs for shots on the perimeter, or layups. Slowing Houston down will largely rely on their ability to stop their paint attack.