San Antonio Spurs: Previewing road trip vs. Mavericks, Timberwolves
By Rob Wolkenbrod
After a long homestand, the San Antonio Spurs will hit the road to face the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Saturday night, the San Antonio Spurs completed a six-game homestand, compiling a 4-2 record. The most recent game saw the Spurs crush the Chicago Bulls, 133-94, behind an offensive onslaught from just about every healthy rotation player.
Starting Tuesday, the Silver and Black will hit the road for two games. The first will be against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 14. Followed by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
With the season getting deeper, let’s look at what these opponents will offer the Spurs on their back-to-back.
San Antonio might be facing one of the NBA’s worst teams on Tuesday, as the Mavericks enter this tilt losers of seven of their last eight games. Their last win came against the Washington Wizards, a 113-99.
A developing storyline has been Nerlens Noel’s disappearance of playing time. Head coach Rick Carlisle told ESPN.com the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent’s playing time “must be earned.” Noel turned down a four-year, $70 million deal and accepted a one-year qualifying offer for 2017-18.
Now, the 2013 first-round pick can’t find his way into the rotation. He saw his minutes dwindle with every game from Oct. 30, vs. the Utah Jazz (22) to Nov. 11, against the Cleveland Cavaliers (0).
Outside of him, rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been a bright spot for the Mavs. He’s second on the team in scoring, with 14.8 points per game and just ahead of JJ Barea in assists, with 5.1.
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Harrison Barnes remains the team’s go-to scorer, while Dirk Nowitzki continues to take a smaller role in the offer. Through 13 games and 35.4 minutes, Barnes has 18.8 points per game and topped 20 in two of his past three outings.
So, there are pieces to be interested in from Dallas, but given their struggles through the season, this could be another easy one for the Spurs. Especially as the 2011 NBA champions allow the 10th-most points per game and score the fourth-fewest points in the league. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.
The young and hungry Timberwolves already faced and lost to the Spurs this season (on Opening Night), 107-99. Despite the loss, Andrew Wiggins delivered 26 points against and took advantage of no Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. That may be the case, again, on Wednesday.
Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have both followed up on their success from 2016-17, scoring over 20 points per game. For the latter, he’s averaging a double-double, putting up three of them in his last four games.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t been the standout player he was in Chicago, however. His shot attempts per game were always going to dwindle on a team that featured multiple quality scoring threats, but it’s resulted in just 41.3 percent shooting and 33 percent from behind the arc. Though after his 25-point performance on Saturday, there’s nothing to be concerned about.
As for the team itself, Minnesota stands at 7-5, losing the past two games. One more remains before the Spurs game, which comes against a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team. That could set up nicely for Towns and the other ‘Wolves big men.
On defense, the Spurs will find difficulties, especially if Danny Green remains sidelined with an injury. Offensively, will be another story, as the Timberwolves allow the fourth-most points per game in the NBA (111.8). Look for a strong game at the wing spot for Rudy Gay, who faces Wiggins and his absurdly low -2.7 Defensive Box Plus-Minus. That may not be everything, however, as Hoops Habit’s Dominique Clare thinks the Kansas product has played better on the defensive end.
Andrew Wiggins is playing much better defense this season. #AllEyesNorth
— Dominique Clare (@DomClare) November 9, 2017
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How will the Spurs perform against these teams? We’ll find out later in the week.