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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons

A long awaited battle between young NBA teams is finally here.

San Antonio Spurs v Detroit Pistons Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Rewind to December when one of the prominent narratives in the NBA was the epic losing streaks of the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs. Both teams went on record-breaking stretches, as the Spurs lost 18 games in a row, while the Pistons dropped 28 straight games. Both teams broke their streaks, eliminating the “toilet-bowl” nature of the team’s anticipated matchup.

There is no getting around it, these are two of the worst teams in the NBA. Both franchises are heading for another year where they depend on lottery balls to improve their roster. Yet with two strong performances under their belt last week, the Spurs have an opportunity to go on a winning streak starting with the matchup in Detroit. The Pistons will be missing key contributor, Cade Cunningham, while San Antonio seems to be hitting it’s stride in both their lineup decisions and style of play.

San Antonio will face the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards twice, and play struggling teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers through the end of the month. After improving their play over the last week, a win in Detroit could propel them into a successful month of January.

San Antonio Spurs (5-30) at Detroit Pistons (3-34)

January 10, 2024 | 6:00 PM CT

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Charles Bassey – Out (left knee,) Sidy Cissoko – Out (G League,) Zach Collins – Out (right ankle,) David Duke Jr. – Out (G League,) Mamadi Diakite – Questionable (G League,) Dominick Barlow – Questionable (G League)

Pistons Injuries: Do not need to report injuries until 1 p.m. CT

What to watch for

Victor Wembanyama’s continued dominance

Victor Wembanyama has been nothing short of spectacular over the last few weeks. The rookie has scored 20 or more in his last five game, and has 22 blocks in that same amount of time. The Spurs have been playing through Wembanyama, running high pick and roll, and off-ball screens to get the big man looks around the rim. He’s attempting more shots at the basket, and is locking down the paint defensively.

Detroit is not a great defensive nor offensive unit. Jalen Duren provides some challenges with his combination of size and athleticism, and Isaiah Stewart is a big man who can stretch the floor. Neither of those two provide the challenge that Wemby has faced with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jarrett Allen in the last two games. This is a matchup in which Wembanyama should dominate.

Does Tre Jones continue to start?

When Malaki Branham turned his ankle against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs turned to Tre Jones to fill his spot in the starting lineup. The results have been a clear improvement both offensively and defensively. Over the last two games, the starting five of Jones, Vassell, Julian Champagnie, Sochan and Wembanyama has played 63 possessions, producing a 117.5 offensive rating and a 106.6 defensive rating and a +10.9 net rating. Swap out Jones for Branham, and that group has played 90 possessions for a -14.7 net rating.

Branham is officially off the injury report. While he played against Cleveland, he was listed as questionable before the game. With no injury designation, will he re-enter the starting five, or will Gregg Popovich continue using the lineup that’s been playing well?

The development of Barlow and Wesley

Dominick Barlow and Blake Wesley have gotten an opportunity to play while guys like Zach Collins, Doug McDermott and Branham struggled with injuries. McDermott and Branham are back, which may mean less time for Wesley, but Barlow will likely continue to get a bulk of the backup center minutes. Barlow has competed defensively, and looked better on the offensive end in his minutes. It seems like he’s getting better with each performance.

Wesley has been good on the defensive end, pressuring opposing ball-handlers and creating opportunities with his athleticism. The silly mistakes are decreasing, and he’s finishing better at the rim. Barlow and Wesley’s strong play is a sign that opportunity in the G League is good for their development. They’ll have more opportunities against Detroit on Wednesday.