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San Antonio Spurs: Digging into the road-game issues

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OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 16: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 and Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs high five during the game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 16: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 and Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs high five during the game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs were terrific at home but a different squad on the road. Was there any reason for this in the 2017-18 season?

Home and road splits tend to favor the former, rather than the latter, for teams in not just the NBA but most major professional sports leagues. The crowd noise and familiarity may impact these teams in ways anyone off the field or court can’t properly assess. For the San Antonio Spurs, in the 2017-18 season, they fed off the AT&T Center fit this profile perfectly.

33-8 was San Antonio’s home record, a mark only the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors topped at 34-7 each, both of whom were the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences. The Spurs were No. 7 in the West, however. That’s from a 14-27 road record, the fifth-worst mark in the West and just makes bottom 10 of the NBA.

The evidence points directly at the Spurs’ stark offensive and defensive numbers, painting the picture of one of the league’s most unbalanced records (“home” references the AT&T Center). All stats are from Basketball-Reference:

Points Per Game

  • Spurs: 105.5 points per game at home
  • Opponent: 98.1 points per game at home
  • Spurs: 100 points per game on the road
  • Opponent: 101.6 points per game on the road

A 7.4-point difference shows just how great the Spurs were at home, but the road numbers somewhat offset this with 5.5 fewer points per game.

Field Goal Percentage

  • Spurs: 47.3 percent at home
  • Opponent: 44.9 percent at home
  • Spurs: 44.2 percent on the road
  • Opponent: 45.6 percent on the road

Much like the Points Per Game numbers, there’s a gap between the Spurs and the Opponent at home, but the road numbers trend towards the latter.

Rebounding Margin

  • Spurs: +4.0 at home
  • Spurs: -0.6 on the road

This does not reveal much, but the Spurs did benefit from a rebounding guard, Dejounte Murray, as their starter at point guard for the second half of the season. San Antonio was 11th in Total Rebounds Per Game with 44.2.

LaMarcus Aldridge

  • 23.0 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting at home
  • 23.3 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting on the road

Aldridge was remarkably consistent at all NBA venues, partly proving his impact on the Spurs this season.

A broad look at these road numbers does not point out anything glaring. Sure, there was a differential in Points Per Game and Field Goal Percentage, but that became the case with other teams this season. Is this not an analytical case then?

The Kawhi Leonard Factor?

How does Kawhi Leonard factor into this after playing just nine games? Three of his first four games back were on the road, in a nine-day span, in December. The Spurs tried to work him into the rotation and went 1-3 to start his comeback trail.

Leonard shot over 50 percent in all but one road game, however. So his ailing presence did not mean much, except for a putrid -21 Plus-Minus against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 30.

The Dejounte Murray and Danny Green Factors?

Dejounte Murray’s play was arguably the most unbalanced home-road splits of any Spurs player:

  • 48 percent shooting, 104 Offensive Rating, +12.5 Plus-Minus at home
  • 41.4 percent shooting, 93 Offensive Rating, +0.3 Plus-Minus on the road

Danny Green’s numbers were not as drastic but had a few differences:

  • 39.1 percent shooting, 103 Offensive Rating, +8.0 Plus-Minus at home
  • 37.7 percent shooting, 93 Offensive Rating, -4.1 Plus-Minus on the road

Without Analytics

More from Spurs News

  • From Oct. 27 to 30, the Spurs played three road games, two of which were back-to-back. It’s a tight four-day span for any team, with traveling from Orlando to Indiana to Boston within 72 hours. Two of those games were lost by double-digit points.
  • To open 2018, the Spurs went on the road in a back-to-back set against the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, losing the latter. Within the same month, January, Gregg Popovich’s squad had two three-games-in-five-days sets on the road, going 1-2 in both.
  • February’s Rodeo Road Trip was a disaster for the Spurs, who went 2-6 in this span. The 10-day All-Star break gap took up part of this, but three of the games took place in four nights — all of which the Silver and Black lost — going from Golden State to Utah to Denver. Aldridge was absent two of these games
  • Aldridge and company were then tasked to face the Warriors, Thunder and Rockets in consecutive games, over a five-day span, on the road, in March. That’s arguably the NBA’s two best teams (Rockets and Warriors) and another group that put Russell Westbrook and Paul George on the floor. The Spurs lost all three games and did not have Aldridge available against Houston.
  • As late as April 3 and 4, the Spurs had to play back-to-back games in Los Angeles, against the Clippers and Lakers. They did not have to leave the STAPLES Center, and both games were tightly contested, but two non-playoff teams could not be edged out, both of whom gave the Spurs issues with tall, athletic wings.

This grouping made up 19 of the 27 road losses in 2017-18. Small windows and extensive road trips did no good for the Spurs. Of course, talent comes into play, and they could not top the league’s best teams for most of the season, but that’s only part of the equation.

Next: Top 25 players in SAS history

Basically, it’s impossible to pinpoint a particular statistic or player that resulted in this poor run on the road. Maybe it was just the talent on the floor, but the San Antonio Spurs still finished with a 47-35 record and were fantastic at their place. So what should actually be taken into account? Let us know below.

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