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The San Antonio Spurs must use December as a turning point

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, and Rudy Gay #22 watch action from the bench during an NBA against the Houston Rockets game held November 30, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, and Rudy Gay #22 watch action from the bench during an NBA against the Houston Rockets game held November 30, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
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After a dreadful November that saw the San Antonio Spurs drop 10-of-15 games, the squad must use their current hot streak to solidify playoff position.

Over the course of the first full month of this NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs endured some harsh growing pains with a fresh core. They came into the season confident, but the new teammates hadn’t become full acclimated to Gregg Popovich’s system of play. As the younger players worked through early-season woes, the injury bug attacked the Spurs’ veteran leaders.

Popovich turned to his All-NBA combo of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to guide the team and take initiative within the offense. For the most part, DeRozan ran with his opportunities and proceeded to boom with Pop’s green light. He proceeded to have an offensive explosion across multiple facets of his game that hadn’t yet been unveiled.

DeRozan is well aware of his stature as one of the league’s most feared defensive matchups. His confidence as a scorer is staggering and his ability to set up teammates is amplified under the spacing and off-ball motion of Pop’s plays. The 29-year-old is moving the ball with incredible precision and a profound sense of fearlessness.

You used to wait for the Rodeo Trip every February for the Spurs to get serious. But it's a six-game homestand in December that's turning their season around. Headed for a 4-0 start with a rout of the Clippers and, more importantly, some tangible D

— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 14, 2018

The same couldn’t be said for Aldridge, who regressed into a burden with his poor shooting and lack of energy in November. At some point during the season, every player goes through a rough patch shooting the ball, but this was unlike anything Aldridge had displayed in his career.

Last season, Aldridge made a statement to the league by singlehandedly leading San Antonio back to the playoffs. He let his doubters know that no matter what goes on in the league around him, LMA would continue to embarrass the competition in his own style.

After all of his hard work last season, Aldridge fell back to square one last month. He shot an abysmal 42.7 percent from the field in November for 16.5 points per game and oftentimes looked lost on defense. Though he had an excellent month rebounding the ball, it seemed like there was a lid on the hoop every time he shot one of his signature fadeaway jumpers.

Thankfully, Aldridge jumpstarted his play at the start of December and found his offensive rhythm once again. Now, the Spurs have matched their longest win streak of the season with four victories and have won 71.4 percent of their games in the month. Through seven games in the month, Aldridge is averaging 20.7 points on 61 percent shooting from the field.

As the team has gotten its groove back, small forward Rudy Gay has taken another step as the third scorer for Coach Pop. Gay is shooting 60 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from behind the arc in December for 16.6 points and six rebounds per night. His constant hustle on both ends of the court have been major for a team lacking athleticism in its frontcourt.

As the swiss army knife of the team, Gay must remain aggressive and efficient in his pursuit of the ball. It could be beneficial for the team to start feeding him the ball more often or staggering his minutes with the All-Stars.

Spurs are 13-10 vs. the West so far this season. Every other team currently 7-14 has 9 wins at the most. This is not insignificant as they jockey for a playoff spot. They're also the only team among that group with a plus .500 win percentage against the West.

— Trevor Zickgraf (@TrevorWrites) December 14, 2018

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All cylinders are clicking for San Antonio with the trio of Aldridge, DeRozan and Gay playing their hardest. Even with DeRozan taking a backseat as a scorer, the Spurs have the second-best offensive rating in the league for December. For the first time this year, the new unit is actually playing Spurs basketball.

Now that they’ve gone through their rough patch and are beginning to understand what it’ll take to be a contender in the West, the Spurs need to continue their play past this homestand and into the latter stages of the season. The margin for error is minuscule in this conference and another losing month like November could kill their hopes of a playoff run.

San Antonio is trending upward with other playoff candidates hitting rough patches of their own. The Rockets, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies all have losing records over their last 10 games and injuries have hit New Orleans and Utah recently, hindering their ability to win games consistently.

Things always seem to come down to the wire in the Western Conference with teams battling for postseason position until the final game. For this reason, it’s largely important for the Spurs to make this style of play their new norm if they want to return to the playoffs.

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Once the Spurs are forced to venture back out on the road, they need to continue playing a winning style of basketball.

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