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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago Bulls

In danger of tying a franchise record for losses in a row, San Antonio faces a struggling Bulls squad.

San Antonio Spurs v Chicago Bulls Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It’s been a full month since the San Antonio Spurs won their last game. Now the young team is just one loss away from tying the franchise’s longest losing streak at 16-games. That record was set by last year’s team during an abysmal stretch to start the calendar year. As the Spurs try to avoid history, they’ll be matched up with a team that also isn’t living up to their expectations.

The Chicago Bulls are dealing with the drama of trade rumors for a star, and murmurs of blowing up the roster. Despite that, they’ve won their last three games, and are within striking distance of a play-in spot. With no Zach Lavine, the Bulls will rely on former-Spur DeMar DeRozan for a bulk of their offense. The Spurs have made strides in the last few games. A win on Friday would be a big step forward for the young team.

San Antonio Spurs (3-17) vs. Chicago Bulls (8-14)

December 8, 2023 | 7:30 P.M. CT

Watch: Bally | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Charles Bediako – Out (G League,) Sidy Cissoko – Out (G League,) Sir’Jabari Rice – Out (G League)

Bulls injuries: Lonzo Ball – Out (left knee,) Onuralp Bitim – Out (G league,) Alex Caruso – Probably (left toe,) Torrey Craig – Probable (left knee,) Zach Lavine – Out (right foot,) Justin Lews – Out (G League,) Adama Sanogo – Out (G League)

What to watch for

Controlling the tempo

The Bulls are an interesting matchup for the Spurs. They are last in the NBA in pace, of play opting instead for a methodical half-court game led by DeRozan. The Spurs are top-5 in the league in pace. They try to speed teams up and get early offense. San Antonio’s offense has been at it’s best when they get out after creating turnovers, or scoring on the secondary break. That approach will be tough against the Bulls. Chicago is good at taking care of the basketball, turning it over just 12 times a game.

The Spurs will need to find ways to speed up Chicago and make them play at their pace. A half-court game could allow good offensive players like DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic to shred San Antonio’s so-so defense.

Starting lineup and rotations

Gregg Popovich debuted a new starting lineup on Wednesday that included Cedi Osman in Jeremy Sochan’s place. Sochan was relegated to back-up forward and point guard duties while Osman, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson handled the ball-handling responsibilities in the starting five. This gave Vassell more opportunities to have the ball in his hands. He made good on that opportunity with an efficient 22 points in the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Notably, Popovich didn’t play a backup center against Minnesota. With Dominick Barlow available for the Spurs, could he get a crack at minutes? Barlow is the second leading scorer in the G League, and has shown the ability to defend at the NBA-level. It will be interesting to see if the Spurs go with a similar rotation on Friday, or switch things up again.

Hitting open shots

A big story of the Spurs season has been their inability to hit open jumpers. The Silver and Black are hitting just 38% of their unguarded three pointers. The Bulls give up a lot of threes (39.1 a game) and allow teams to hit them at a respectable clip (37%.) San Antonio is going to get open looks from deep, but they need to convert them.

Zach Collins and Victor Wembanyama’s poor three point shooting have been a problem for an offense that gets a lot of pick and pop looks. They’ll need them to hit a few from deep to open up lanes for the struggling offense. This should also be a game where Vassell can do a lot of damage if he is assertive.