Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!
Week 20: The Spurs finally broke their 16-game losing streak by going 2-2, but in an unexpected way: by beating the Jazz and Pacers but then losing twice to the Rockets.
After a much-needed four-day break, the Spurs returned home from Houston to face the best team in the west to open up a season high six-game homestand. They also entered the game under relatively new circumstances for this season: completely healthy (with the exception of Khem Birch, who has yet to suit for the Spurs this season since they acquired him in the Jakob Poeltl trade).
Early on, it didn’t look like even the healthy Spurs would put up much of a fight against the Nuggets, as they got out to a double-digit lead. Instead, for the third time in five games after not doing it all season, the Spurs rallied back and dominated the second half for the win, in no small part thanks to a fourth-quarter explosion from the newest Spur, Sando Mamukelashvili, who got minutes after Zach Collins was ejected for scuffling with Michael Porter, Jr (who somewhat surprisingly got off without a fine or suspension despite grabbing Collins’ neck in a choking manner). The loss for the Nuggets also represented the first time they had lost all season when Nikola Jokic records a triple-double.
Finally seeing the Spurs healthy and getting a better understanding of their future potential was nice, but next it was time for the Thunder, and of course the Spurs have to remind everyone that they’re still in the hunt for Victor Wembamyama by putting Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan and Tre Jones back on “injury management”. OKC was also without star scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and as a result it was an ugly, low-scoring affair with both teams shooting under 38% for the game. However, the Thunder were just barely better, overcoming a double-double and big shooting night from Collins to put the Spurs away in the fourth quarter and complete the series sweep.
The Spurs are still comfortably in the bottom three — two games behind the 27th seed Hornets and facing the hardest strength of schedule in the league for the remainder of the season — but it’s crazy to think that even though the Rockets beat the Spurs twice last week, they’re right back to being two games behind with 52 losses, and the Pistons are even further behind with 53 losses. The Spurs might be not far off from firmly planted in the 28th spot, which doesn’t hurt their odds at the the top four picks but increases their chances of falling lower.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 29 (last week: 29)
OffRtg: 109.3 (29) DefRtg: 119.2 (30) NetRtg: -9.9 (30) Pace: 101.7 (4)
Over their first 52 seasons (going back to the ABA), the Spurs never missed the playoffs in two straight years. Now, they officially have a four-year playoff drought. And they need three more wins to keep this from being the worst season in franchise history.
The Spurs do already have three wins since the All-Star break, with the latest of those coming against the first-place Nuggets on Friday. It was the first time since Jan. 2 that Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan were all available to play, and, with all four of them (along with Doug McDermott) scoring at least 14 points, it was the Spurs’ most efficient offensive performance in five weeks. Alas, only one of those guys (Vassell) was in uniform two nights later as the Spurs scored just 90 points on 101 possessions (their second worst offensive performance of the season) against the Thunder.
Despite the anemic offense, the Spurs only lost by 12, and it was the third time in their eight post-break games that their opponent scored a point per possession or less. That only happened in three of their 59 pre-break games, so perhaps there’s been some progress on the defensive end of the floor.
Expect more off days this week, because the Spurs will play the second of four post-break back-to-backs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven of their remaining 14 games, including visits from the Mavs and Hawks this week, are against top-10 offenses so any defensive progress will be put to the test.
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 28 (last week: 29)
Weekly slate: Win over Nuggets, Loss to Thunder
Lineup: Keita Bates-Diop | Malaki Branham I Keldon Johnson | Jeremy Sochan | Zach
Stats: 45 minutes | +10.3 net rating | 108.3 offensive rating | 98.0 defensive rating
The six most used lineups for the Spurs are all irrelevant for this exercise. They include either Jakob Poelti or Josh Richardson, and both of them are on new teams because of the trade deadline. This is the first positive lineup and the second most used lineup outside of the Richardson and Poeltl appearances. Considering the Spurs are setting the record for worst defense ever, this group playing that level of defense in even a small sample size feels like one of the lone positives this season. That is unless they get Wembanyama.
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — 28 (last week: 29)
Four days off served the Spurs well, as they pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season against the Nuggets on Friday. They followed that up with a tank loss to the Thunder with most of their best players sitting out. Zach Collins continues to put up big numbers as the starting center, averaging 16.5 points and 10 rebounds in the two games, despite getting ejected midway through the win over Denver following a dust-up with Michael Porter Jr.
Prediction 2-2: I undersold the Spurs last week with an 0-2 prediction, so I’ll give them extra credit this week and predict they take down the Magic, then close off their homestand with a bit of revenge in Dejounte Murray’s first game back at the AT&T Center. Of course, this is all assuming Pop let’s everyone play, which is a bad assumption at this point...