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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The injury list grows as the Silver and Black hit the road

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

You could use a lot of words to describe San Antonio’s recent home stretch. Boring is not one of them. The Spurs took out playoff teams, swung 20+ point margins both ways, and went to overtime twice. With just 11 games left, the Silver and Black will take their show on the road for a four-game road trip, starting with a matchup against the Pelicans in New Orleans.

After a stretch of long, physical games, the Spurs injury report has gotten crowded once again. San Antonio will be without Key contributors Zach Collins, Jeremy Sochan and Devin Vassell for the first game of their road trip. They could have used them too, because the team has gone 0-3 against the Pelicans this season. In their last matchup, a 126-117 loss, Sochan led the way with 23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. Pelicans veteran C.J. McCollum exploded for 40 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.

That said, the Spurs have been playing some sound basketball as of late. They are moving the rock, and shooting it incredibly well over the last three games. They’ll face a stiff test in a Pelicans team that ranks #1 in opponent 3-point percentage. New Orleans is fighting for their play-in lives right now, and will look to defend their home court, as the Spurs try to play spoiler.

San Antonio Spurs (19-52) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (34-37)

March 21, 2023 | 7 p.m. CT

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Khem Birch – Out (knee), Charles Bassey – Out (knee), Zach Collins – Out (rest), Devonte Graham – Questionable (quad), Tre Jones – Doubtful (hamstring), Doug McDermott – Probable (hip), Jeremy Sochan – Out (knee), Devin Vassell – Out (knee)

Pelicans injuries: Jose Alverado – Out (tibial), E.J. Liddell – Out (knee), Dereon Seabron – Out (two-way), Zion Williamson – Out (hamstring)

What to watch for

Can the wings keep up their scoring?

The Spurs have benefitted from great production from their wings over their last 5 games. Keldon Johnson has especially been spectacular, averaging 21.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 45% shooting from the field, as well as 41% from deep in his last 5. He’s looked confident shooting from range, and has gotten creative mixing in some mid-range looks with his bulldozing drives to the cup.

Malaki Branham has been forced to be flexible with the state of the roster changing on a near day-to-day basis. He’s started and come off of the bench, been a featured scorer and a supporting player while seeing a decrease in minutes this month. After a scorching hot of February, he’s regressed to the mean in March, averaging 10 points on 42/35/100 splits. With Vassell and Sochan out, the Spurs will need production from their rookie wing, who will likely see a bump in his usage.

The wings will need to be productive with so many key contributors being on the injury report. They face a murderers row of wing defenders in New Orleans. Herb Jones was designed in a lab to play defense, and Trey Murphy III, Dyson Daniels and Josh Richardson are no slouches themselves. The Pelicans overall are a middle of the pack defense, but their perimeter defenders on the wing will be a tough task for the Silver and Black’s scorers to overcome.

Devonte Graham (potentially) returns to New Orleans

The Spurs saw an old teammate return in their win over the Atlanta Hawks, now it’s time for one of their own to come back to his old home crowd. Devonte Graham is listed as questionable after missing the last two games with quad soreness. With the length of the injury report, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Graham try to return against his old team on Tuesday night.

Graham has been a welcome addition to the Spurs since being traded for Richardson in February. He’s averaged 15.5 ppg and 4.6 apg on 40/39/80 shooting splits. He’s provided the Spurs with a scoring punch in both the starting lineup and off of the bench. He’s claimed a much bigger role in San Antonio than he had in New Orleans, so it would be fun to see the former Kansas guard have a good showing against his former team.

Of course this means the Spurs will see their former teammate J-Rich as well. Since being traded to the Pelicans, he’s averaged 10.9 ppg and 3 apg, shooting 35% from three in 25 minutes per game.

Big bodies inside

The Spurs will be without two of their rotational big men in Zach Collins and Charles Bassey. The Pelicans have a handful of big bodied posts who like to bang and rebound down low. Jonas Valanciunas, Willy Hernangomez, Larry Nance Jr. and Jaxson Hayes all will be a threat on the interior on both offense and defense. This is a problem the Spurs will need to solve in order to be competitive against New Orleans.

Sandro Mamukelashvili, Dominick Barlow and Gorgui Dieng will likely see a large share of the minutes in the frontcourt to combat the Pelican’s big men. Barlow has shown signs of being a competitive NBA defender, and this game would be a good chance for the Spurs to get an extended look at him. It also may be a chance for the Spurs to go small, with Mamu at the 5, and Keita Bates-Diop, KJ and Doug McDermott operating the forward slots. Perhaps the answer won’t be to bang with the Pelican’s giants, but to pull them out on the perimeter and create driving and cutting lanes for the ball handlers.

For the Pelican fan’s perspective, visit The Bird Writes.

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