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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Washington Wizards

Spurs look to bounce back from two straight road blowouts

NBA: Washington Wizards at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs had to play with an incomplete roster all season, but in the last two games they’ve been noticeably thin. That lack of depth has cost them in back-to-back blowout losses against potential playoff teams in New Orleans and Milwaukee. Their most recent loss came in the form of a 130-94 loss to the Bucks, where they couldn’t get it going on offense nor defense.

They will have a chance at redemption against a Washington Wizards squad that might be hurdling towards the lottery faster than they can try to climb into the play-in, as they are losers in eight of the last ten games. The Silver and Black will be aided by the probable return of their most consistent producer, Keldon Johnson, after he missed the last two games with a neck injury. The last time these two teams played in late-January, Johnson had 26 points and 4 assists in a 127-106 loss at the AT&T Center.

The Wizard will be without two of their key contributors, Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma. With the Spurs finishing the road trip out against the Celtics in Boston, this may be the best chance they have to escape the 4-game stretch with a win. Washington is a league-average defense, so this may be a chance for San Antonio to get back into the offensive rhythm they established in their previous 6-game home stand.

San Antonio Spurs (19-54) vs. Washington Wizards (32-41)

March 24, 2023 | 6 p.m. CT

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Khem Birch – Out (knee), Charles Bassey – Out (knee), Zach Collins – Questionable (right bicep), Devonte Graham – Probable (quad), Keldon Johnson – Probably (neck), Tre Jones – Probable (foot), Romeo Langford – Out (abductor), Doug McDermott – Probable (hip), Jeremy Sochan – Out (knee), Devin Vassell – Questionable (knee)

Wizards injuries: Bradley Beal – Out (knee), Kyle Kuzma – Out (ankle), Isaiah Todd – Out (G-League)

What to watch for

Who wins the turnover battle?

San Antonio’s offense looked downright unwatchable in stretches against Milwaukee on Tuesday. Unforced errors by young guards and veterans alike gave the Bucks too many opportunities in transition. The Spurs coughed the ball up 19 times in that game, and it might have been the biggest reason for their struggles. They just could not find any offensive flow.

The Bucks are a great defensive team... the Wizards are not. They are forcing the second-least amount of turnovers in the NBA (12.) The Spurs turn it over the third-most in the NBA (15.) Conversely, San Antonio forces 14 turnovers a game, while Washington coughs it up 14 times. This is going to be a very narrow margin that will be a key factor in the game. The Wizards will be without two of their primary playmakers in Beal and Kuzma, while the Spurs are getting back a few of theirs, in Johnson and Tre Jones. Turnovers may be a statistic that decides the game.

Getting to the cup

The Spurs are a much better offense when they can attack the basket. Against Milwaukee they were outscored in the paint 54-44. With giants like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez monitoring the basket, while Zach Collins and Jeremy Sochan were in foul trouble, San Antonio was forced to settle for inefficient jump shots from deep and mid-range. They shot just 39% from the field in their last contest. They need to find a way to get the ball into the paint, then find open shooters for spot up jumpers, in order for their offense to be at its most effective.

The Wizards are oddly effective at guarding the paint. They are holding teams to a 5th-worst 53% from 2-point range, and are 7th in the league in blocks, at 5.2 a game. They have a pair of enforcers in the paint with Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford. In another contest where the Spurs may be missing both Collins and Sochan, they will need to find a way to get some rim pressure, forcing Porzingis and Gafford to make plays. Johnson has been really effective at the basket this season, shooting 66% on shots between 0-3 feet away from the hoop. Jones also forces defenses to collapse on him with his savvy navigation of the pick and roll, and a respectable floater. These two will need to continue to attack the paint for this offense to click.

How do they stop Porzingis?

After being traded away from Dallas, a lot of people wrote off Porzingis. They thought he and his bloated contract would go to Washington and fade into basketball obscurity. But the 7-foot Latvian has been a very effective player for the Wiz this year!

Porzingis (or as Michael Rappaport would call him, Tingis Pingis,) is averaging 23 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, leading the Wizards in scoring this season. With no Beal or Kuzma the ball will most likely be in his hands. The Spurs are thinning in their frontcourt with the loss of Charles Bassey, and nagging injuries to Collins and Sochan. It will be interesting to see how they decide to guard Porzingis, with the only true center available being Gorgui Dieng.

Sandro Mamukelashvili has gotten the center assignment when Collins sits, and the defensive results have been mixed. Since joining the club in March, Sandro has a 119 defensive rating. He’s not fast enough to guard quick players on the perimeter, and not quite big enough to guard posts down low. Porzingis is a player that can mix it up and thrive both inside and out – can Mamu handle that matchup?

The Spurs may elect to put a smaller player on him, like Keita Bates-Diop, who can use their athleticism and length to bother Porzingis on both ends. No matter what they decide to do, he will certainly be the focal point of the defensive game plan.

For the Wizard fan’s perspective, visit Bullets Forever.

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