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Week in Review: The Spurs are suddenly playing (almost) .500 ball

Is it the schedule, improved play, or both?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!

Week 13: The Spurs got down early in all four games before rallying, but they were only successful once.

Week 14: 2-2 (10-36, 15th in West) — 123-133 L @ Philadelphia 76ers; 114-140 L vs. Oklahoma City Thunder; 116-100 W vs. Portland Trail Blazers; 113-112 W vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Not long ago, it wasn’t too outlandish to wonder if this Spurs team would even reach double-digit wins this season. They were sitting at just five wins after 35 games with no sign things would get better anytime soon. They couldn’t put anything close to a 48-minute performance together, and Victor Wembanyama’s minutes restrictions were becoming a burden. Fast forward a few weeks, and there’s hope again. Yes, the schedule got easier, but there’s little doubt the Spurs have shown improvement. They still have (sometimes very) bad games, but the “good” Spurs are starting to show up more frequently — although this week they’d have to go through the bad to get to the good.

Their game in Philadelphia to close a long road trip brought out mixed opinions, depending on how you looked at it. On one hand, the Spurs held their own against a championship contender and the reigning MVP Joel Embiid, never allowing the game to get out of hand and forcing Nick Nurse to keep playing his starters, so that was something. On the other, they allowed Embiid a franchise record 70 points, which is never fun to be on the other side of, but in the end it was a good effort against a contender. That was more than could be said for the next game as they returned home but got completely annihilated by the Thunder in a listless performance from anyone besides Wemby. But hey, at least he continued to stake his case for Rookie of the Year over Chet Holmgren.

Then, the good Spurs returned. Sure, it’s easy to shrug off a win against the shorthanded Blazers considering if there’s one thing the Spurs have done well this season, it’s win the few games they’ve been favored to win, but after that came their most impressive win of the season. Another top seed came visiting in the Timberwolves, and although the Spurs would have been forgiven for not having enough juice on a SEGABABA, they found new life with Wemby cleared to play on back-to-backs again. They held Minnesota’s stars in check while getting good nights from all their own top players to complete a thrilling rally in the fourth quarter. It may be too early to say the Spurs have truly turned a corner, but at this point, they’re 5-6 in their last 11 games while showing steady improvement. Most importantly, fears of a single-digit win season have been squashed.

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 27 (last week: 28)

OffRtg: 109.7 (27) DefRtg: 118.1 (25) NetRtg: -8.4 (26) Pace: 102.4 (4)

Victor Wembanyama played in both games of a back-to-back for the first time since mid-November, and the Spurs won both games, holding the Blazers to less than a point per possession and then scoring efficiently against the Wolves’ top-ranked defense.

Three takeaways

1. Wembanyama isn’t averaging more than a point per minute like Joel Embiid. But over his last 11 games, he’s averaging 34.2 per 36, second in the league (behind Embiid) over that stretch. His usage rate of 37.4% over those 11 games is also second and up from 28.9% (19th) prior.

2. Over that same stretch (13 games total), the Spurs have been 17.8 points per 100 possessions better with Wembanyama on the floor (plus-9.4) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-8.4).

3. Jeremy Sochan has shot just 46.8% on 2-pointers, down from 51.9% last season. But his 3-point percentage has gone from 24.6% to 38.0%, he’s already made 16 more 3s than he did as a rookie, and he was 4-for-7 from beyond the arc as he scored 31 points (second most in his career) in the Spurs’ win over the Blazers on Friday.

The Spurs have a good chance for their first three-game winning streak of the season, hosting the Wizards on Monday in Game 4 of their seven-game homestand. Of course, Washington is surely looking at that game as a great opportunity to register its first two-game winning streak of the season. One of these teams is about to make history.

Brett Siegel, Clutch Points — 26 (last week: 28)

Victor Wembanyama continues to impress and separate himself from Chet Holmgren in the Rookie of the Year race. While Holmgren may have the winning record, Wemby has the stats to back up his claim for the award.

The San Antonio Spurs are starting to show the growth they have made since the start of the year, recently defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves at home. Wembanyama leads the charge for this young team and has recorded 20 or more points in 13 of his last 14 games. Keep an eye on the Spurs as that one team near the bottom of the NBA Power Rankings that could pull off numerous upsets near the end of the season that impact the playoff race.

Quite simply, nobody wants to play this team right now.

Coming up: Mon. 1/29 vs. Washington Wizards; Wed. 1/31 vs. Orlando Magic; Fri. 2/2 vs. New Orleans Pelicans; Sat 2/3 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Prediction: 3-1 — The Silver and Black colored glasses are back on, at least for one week. As the Spurs finish their seven-game homestand ahead of the annual Rodeo Road Trip, they’ll have a chance to win three straight for the first time in over year tonight against the Wizards, followed by games against three teams in the playoff hunt but far from championship contenders. I’m feeling like the Spurs will find a way to win two of those three games for a winning week.