It’s been a rough season for the Spurs and the Rodeo Road Trip hasn’t provided much respite. San Antonio is on a 15-game losing streak heading into the last two games away from home for a while. Both of those matchups will be against the Jazz, on a mini-series in Utah that will pit two teams that had similar outlooks entering the year but have had different journeys so far.
After trading Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz seemed to be looking for a rebuild, just like the Spurs. Both teams started the year strong but San Antonio quickly faltered while Utah kept winning and remaining in the playoff picture. The Silver and Black now find themselves near the bottom of the standings while their Saturday opponent is in the mix for a play-in spot despite being sellers at the trade deadline. It’s a similar spot to the one the Spurs were in last season before the teardown, including having a first-time All-Star in their midst, and it might be too late for the Jazz to bottom out now, even if they’d prefer it.
The last time these two teams met the Spurs actually came out on top but both squads are different now. San Antonio has been plagued by injuries while Utah is still adjusting to the losses of Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mike Conley. The Jazz should still be favored, but they needed overtime to beat the Thunder on Thursday, so they are clearly beatable. Whether the shorthanded Spurs will be able to take advantage of their roster turmoil remains to be seen.
San Antonio Spurs (14-46) vs Utah Jazz (30-31)
February 25rd, 2023 | 8 p.m. CT
Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI/KXTN
Spurs injuries: Devin Vassell — Out, Romeo Langford — Out, Isaiah Roby — Out, Khem Birch — Out, Julian Champagnie — Out, Tre Jones — Doubtful, Jeremy Sochan — Probable.
Jazz injuries: Collin Sexton — Out, Micah Potter — Out, Kelly Olynyk — Questionable, Rudy Gay — Questionable
What to watch for:
Who’s stopping Lauri Markkanen? The last time the Spurs faced the Jazz, the Finnish big man dropped an easy 32 aided by the fact that San Antonio’s defense couldn’t guard him without fouling him. Markkanen hasn’t just been a problem for the Silver and Black, of course. He has been a revelation this year, having a breakout season that has him cemented as one of the centerpieces of Utah’s rebuild. Against the Thunder in their last game he dropped 43 points on 28 shots, so he’s clearly not slowing down any time soon. It will take a team effort to contain him, but Keita Bates-Diop and Jeremy Sochan, if he’s available, will have a chance to show off their individual defense on a star opponent.
The turnover battle will be key. The Spurs had 16 turnovers to the Mavericks’ six on Thursday's loss. The disparity wasn’t all that surprising considering San Antonio ranks among the most turnover-prone teams in the league while Dallas manages to rarely cough up the ball by entrusting one or two players to handle it for most of the game. The Jazz, however, are similar to the Silver and Black when it comes to turning it over. Both teams are also bad at forcing mistakes from their opponents as well. It will come down to who is sharper with their execution on Saturday. If the Spurs’ main ball handlers can avoid giving away the rock, the team might have a chance. The possible return of Tre Jones could help enormously, but if he’s not available, Keldon Johnson and Malaki Branham will have to be as careful as possible while remaining aggressive.
Can the Spurs’ bench be a strength? With Collin Sexton out and after the trades they made, the Jazz don’t have a lot of quality depth right now. Neither do the Spurs when they are shorthanded, but if Sochan and Tre Jones can be available, the Spurs could have a small edge when the second units check in. If they get those two back and can move Devonte’ Graham and Keita Bates-Diop to the bench, they could provide a nice dose of scoring and versatility, respectively. Let’s hope the Spurs can at least get one of their starters back for this one.
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