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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Charlotte Hornets

The Spurs will have the opportunity to build on some good recent performances when they face a fellow bottom-dweller.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

After demolishing the Pistons on Wednesday, the Spurs will have the chance to show they are better than another bottom-dweller when they face the Hornets in San Antonio on Friday.

Unlike the Spurs, who have been getting steady attention because of Victor Wembanyama, there’s not much to entice casual fans to watch the Hornets. LaMelo Ball might return on Friday but he’s been out for a while, rookie Brandon Miller has just been fine, and the team's veterans are not the most exciting. Terry Rozier leads them in scoring with the disgraced Miles Bridges trailing him among the available players. This is another throwaway season for a franchise still looking for a star to put next to a hopefully healthy LaMelo. They have a couple more wins than the Silver and Black and a few interesting players but also plenty of injuries. They are coming off a blowout loss to the Kings and have won just one of their last 15.

It’s a game the Spurs should probably win, even if Ball returns against them. San Antonio beat the Pistons convincingly and have had close matchups with a few good teams recently. It’s too early to say they’ve turned a corner, but having Wembanyama at center, starting Tre Jones and having Keldon Johnson coming off the bench seem to have balanced some units. The rookie big man has been an absolute monster, logging a triple-double in Detroit despite being on a minutes restriction. The defense has been trending in the right direction and so has the offense. Right now, the Spurs are a better team than the Hornets, despite what their record says, and will have a good opportunity to string together wins for the first time since early November.

San Antonio Spurs (6-30) at Charlotte Hornets (8-27)

January 12, 2024 | 7:00 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,) Dominick Barlow – Questionable (G League)

Hornets Injuries: LaMelo Ball — Questionable (Ankle). Gordon Hayward — Out (Calf). Cody Martin — Questionable (Groin). Frank Ntilikina — Questionable (Tibia). PJ Washington — Doubtful (Foot). Mark Williams — Out (Back).

What to watch for

Win the turnover battle

In January, the Spurs lead the league in points scored off turnovers and have the lowest turnover percentage in the league. The Hornets, meanwhile, rank second to last in points off turnovers and 14th in turnover percentage this month. Granted, both teams have played just a few games in the new year so there’s tremendous volatility to those numbers, but they do paint a good picture of how San Antonio could gain a huge edge. By not coughing up the ball and putting pressure on opponent ball handlers, they can generate the transition buckets that sustain them during their characteristic offensive droughts.

Wembanyama needs to continue to avoid the turnovers that plagued him earlier in the season, Jones will have to guide the team with a steady hand and the perimeter defenders will need to play passing lanes without gambling too much and pressure opponents without fouling. Controlling the turnover battle should allow the Spurs to control the pace, giving them a huge edge.

Scary Terry, underrated Spurs killer?

If Ball plays, he’ll be the most dangerous guard wearing teal, but there’s someone else the San Antonio should fear. Terry Rozier averages 14 points for his career but 16 points while facing the Spurs, with better efficiency numbers. If we focus on the last five matchups against the Silver and Black he averages 25 points on 47 percent shooting, and over four rebounds and five assists. All those matchups were wins for his Hornets. Rozier might not be on the pantheon of Spurs killers yet, but he’s building up a resume to eventually get there. He’d be a big concern under any circumstance but it doesn’t help that he’s having a career year as the first option in Charlotte and has a 42-point game, a 39-point game and a 34-point game in the last five times he’s suited up,

Rozier isn’t one of the elite guards who have terrorized the Spurs for years, but he can pull up from outside, get to the rim and make the right pass if helps comes. It will be on more than just his main defender to contain him, especially in the pick-and-roll, where he’s one of the best scorers in the league, according to Synergy Sports. San Antonio now has Victor Wembanyama, so maybe this time Terry won’t be as scary as he has been in the past.

No more third-quarter collapses?

Since deciding to start Tre Jones three games ago, the Spurs have won all of their third quarters. The tidbit is noteworthy because San Antonio has been the worst third-quarter team in the league by a mile this year. Fans surely remember a lot of close games that turned into blowout losses because the Silver and Black simply couldn’t match the intensity of opponents after the break or turned the ball over and failed to execute. At least for a few nights, that hasn’t been the case.

Can the streak continue? It seems likely. The Hornets are the third-worst third-quarter team behind just the Spurs and Wizards. If San Antonio can keep its focus after halftime, the win will be more likely.

For the Hornets’ fans’ perspective, visit At The Hive.

PtR’s Game thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.