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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks

Spurs keep an eye toward the future as they close the books on the 2022-2023 season

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

This Spurs season has been all about the future. Developing the next generation of players, and getting in a good position to select some the high-end talent at the top of the NBA Draft. With one game left, it’s fitting that the benefit of losing their final game outweighs that of winning it. They will head to Dallas with one last chance to improve their lottery standing.

The Mavericks were eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Chicago Bulls on April 7th. They decided to aim for more ping pong balls, rather than a chance in the play-in tournament, sitting starting players in an important game. They’ll run out a similar roster against San Antonio in game 82, as they try to get the 9th best odds at the #1 pick.

The Spurs are currently tied with the Houston Rockets for the second-worst record in the NBA. If they lose, and Houston wins, the Spurs will lock in the second-worst record, and will pick anywhere from 1st to 6th in the draft. If they win, and the Rockets lose, they will be the third-worst record, and pick anywhere from 1st to 7th. If they both win, or lose, the tiebreaker will come down to a random drawing by the NBA. The difference between the 6th and 7th pick in the draft isn’t major, but there are about 5-6 guys that people would agree are the most talented in this pool of prospects. There may be a slight fall off at 7.

The last time the Spurs faced the Mavericks they did not have to play against the star duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, yet still lost to Dallas in overtime, 137-128. They won’t have to face Luka and Kyrie, as well as the rest of the Mavericks higher quality role players.

Before the Spurs last loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves 151-131, Gregg Popovich had sound advice for the young players that have been getting a chance to prove themselves late in the season:

“Be selfish, think about yourself, everybody is watching...all the GMs are out there and everything, so play, compete, execute and try to have an NBA career.”

They will have a final chance to do that in their last contest of the season.

San Antonio Spurs (20-61) vs. Dallas Mavericks (38-43)

April 9, 2023 | 2:30 p.m. CT

Watch: CW 35 | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: TBD. Teams do not need to post injury reports until 1 p.m. of game day on the back end of a back-to-back, but it will probably be similar to yesterday.

Mavericks injuries: Reggie Bullock – Out (rest), Luka Doncic – Out (thigh), Josh Green – Out (rest), Tim Hardaway Jr. – Out (ankle), Kyrie Irving – Out (foot), Maxi Kleber – Out (hamstring)

What to watch for

Julian Champagnie’s scoring streak

The Spurs have taken a chance on a handful of g-league talents this year to play big minutes and prove they have the ability to make it in the NBA. Lately, Julian Chanpagnie has made it fairly clear he can at least score at this level. The rookie swingman has scored 20+ points in his last 3 games. He’s averaging 9.6 points a game while shooting 48% from the field and 40% from three on 5 attempts.

He’s started to pull the trigger without hesitation, and the results have been explosive scoring stretches. He’s a microwave type of scorer who sees the ball go through the net once, and is immediately in a rhythm. However those hot stretches have been followed by cold ones in a few games. Dallas is one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA (23rd in defensive rating) so Champagnie will have ample opportunities to continue his scoring streak as he tries to secure a spot on an NBA roster next season.

Blake Wesley building momentum

The Spurs had strong performances from their rookies this season. Jeremy Sochan looks worthy of a lottery pick, and Malaki Branham has flashed real shotmaking ability as a teenager. The third of their first round picks, Blake Wesley has not shared the same high points of success.

Wesley has struggled to adjust to the speed of the NBA game, often times playing too fast, and letting himself get out of control. He’s averaging just 2.5 assists, and 1.7 turnovers while shooting 30% from the field. However, he’s showed strong flashes on the defensive end and had some games where it all clicked and he’s been explosive.

One such game came in his last outing agains the T-Wolves. Playing 34 minutes, he was the only Spur with a positive +/- (+7,) and finished the game with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists on 6-9 shooting. The Spurs will have a lot of decision to make this offseason, one of which being their guard rotation. Will Wesley have a place in it with Tre Jones, Malaki Branham and a potential draft pick? It’s good to leave a lasting impression, and he’s got a chance to finish the season with two solid games.

Who is playing their last game in Silver and Black?

The offseason will the Spurs will have a roster in flux. The main core of Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan and Malaki Branham are all under contract. Key contributors like Tre Jones and Zach Collins have contract question marks with Jones slated for restricted free agency and Collins on a non-guaranteed deal. Veterans like Doug McDermott, Devonte Graham and Khem Birch have guaranteed deals for next season.

Outside of those players and a few others, there is a slew of guys who could be playing their last game for the Spurs. Romeo Langford, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Keita Bates-Diop, Dominick Barlow and Champagnie will all hit free agency. San Antonio will have between $39-47 million in cap space this summer to retain their players, or take on new talent. Realistically, this may be the last game for at least one of these players. All of them have brought something to the franchise during their time here, and fans will have one last chance to see them against Dallas.