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San Antonio Spurs: Expectations for DeMar DeRozan in the 2019 Playoffs

DENVER, CO - APRIL 13: DeMar DeRozan (10) of the San Antonio Spurs takes a breather against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter of the Spurs' 101-95 win on Saturday, April 13, 2019. The Denver Nuggets hosted the San Antonio Spurs during game one of the teams' first round NBA playoffs series at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 13: DeMar DeRozan (10) of the San Antonio Spurs takes a breather against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter of the Spurs' 101-95 win on Saturday, April 13, 2019. The Denver Nuggets hosted the San Antonio Spurs during game one of the teams' first round NBA playoffs series at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /
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Saddled with a history of faltering in the postseason, DeMar DeRozan attempts to break that stereotype in his first season with the San Antonio Spurs. 

No player on the San Antonio Spurs roster had more pressure leading into this opening round matchup with the Denver Nuggets than DeMar DeRozan. All eyes will be on DeRozan in his first playoff appearance as a member of the Spurs as he aims to distance himself from a disappointing track record of falling short when the lights are brightest.

Despite explosive offensive outings during the course of the regular season, DeMar has struggled over the last few years with the transition to playoff basketball. In 2016, DeRozan’s field goal percentage plummeted from 44.6 percent to 39.4 percent, in 2017 it fell from 46.7 percent to 43.4 percent, and last year in 2018 his average declined from 45.6 percent to 43.7 percent, which marks DeRozan’s highest shooting percentage over five postseason appearances.

Unfortunately, DeRozan’s Game 1 performance against the Nuggets was the last thing Spurs fans wanted to see despite the team edging Denver in the final moments of the game to steal a tough road win. In about 39 minutes of action, he recorded 18 points on 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) shooting from the floor, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.

First, I’ll address the glaring issue: DeRozan’s shooting percentage. Denver is actually one of the few teams in the playoffs with the personnel to stifle DeMar’s productivity. With a bevy of guards such as Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Will Barton and Torrey Craig, the Nuggets were able to throw a variety of defensive looks DeRozan’s way to force him into passing or taking contested shots.

Credit Denver’s scouting and game-planning to prevent DeRozan from getting into an offensive rhythm and forcing him to be more of a distributor than a scorer. While the Spurs were able to escape with a win, the team has to be able to depend on DeRozan in crunch time or their stay in the playoffs will be a short-lived one. DeMar must continue to maintain an aggressive edge about his game, driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line to build some confidence by seeing the ball go through the net, picking his spots in the mid-range and knocking them down.

Although DeRozan’s shooting woes persisted, there are other aspects of his game that deserve praise. Game 1 marked the ninth time this season DeRozan posted a double-digit rebounding total. DD corralled nine defensive rebounds, which allowed him to push the pace and initiate the Spurs’ fast break and transition offense.

Coupled with his efficacy as a rebounder, DeRozan dished out a team-high six assists in the their opening game in the Mile High City, hovering right around his season average of 6.2 per game. Even if his shot continues to struggle, DeMar still has the ability to create offense for other players with crafty passes and effectively operating in the pick-and-roll.

Do I think DeRozan’s shooting slump will continue? Yes and no.

This second contest will prove pivotal for several reasons. Denver has been one of the toughest arenas to play in all season, for all players, so I wouldn’t be surprised if DeRozan doesn’t crack the 20-point mark again in Game 2. But, as was the case in Game 1, DeMar demonstrated he can still be a playmaker on a winning team even when his shot isn’t falling.

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Even if the Spurs can’t pull out another victory on the road in Game 2, I contend heading back to San Antonio will do wonders for DeRozan’s overall confidence and disposition.

It’s no secret, the Spurs have been atrocious outside the confines of the AT&T Center, boasting the second-worst road record (16-25, 39 percent) of the 16 teams in the playoffs, just a single game better than the Detroit Pistons. If the Spurs are able to sneak out another win on the road against this Nuggets squad, it could be a game changer for the rest of this series and the rest of this Spurs playoffs.

Although DeRozan actually averages slightly more points on the road than he does at home (22 vs. 20.5 PPG), I have a gut feeling he will be in store for a stat sheet-stuffing performance when he makes his playoff debut at the AT&T Center.

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While I believe the Spurs can win this series without DeRozan averaging 25-plus points per game, he needs to channel the aura of his favorite player, Kobe Bryant, and take control at those critical junctures of the game when the Spurs need him the most. And believe me, there will be a moment when the Spurs need him to.

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