San Antonio Spurs: Takeaways from the first road loss of preseason against Heat

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 8: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat talks with DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on October 8, 2019 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 8: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat talks with DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on October 8, 2019 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
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MIAMI, FL – OCTOBER 8: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 and Patty Mills #8 helps up Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Miami Heat (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – OCTOBER 8: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 and Patty Mills #8 helps up Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Miami Heat (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs failed to overcome to Jimmy Butler’s first game in a Miami Heat uniform and dropped to an 0-2 record in the preseason.

Through two preseason games, the San Antonio Spurs have failed to put the pieces together. Team shooting has been lackluster, defense is stagnant, and the group hasn’t displayed the synchronicity that’s expected of it. With that in mind, there’s no need to panic – it’s only the preseason and this is the time to work out the kinks.

In a 107-89 rout, San Antonio displayed stagnant offense across the board as displayed by the low scoring output and poor shooting percentages in the contest (40 percent from the field and 30.8 percent on only 13 attempts from three). Of the five players in Gregg Popovich’s starting lineup, only Jakob Poeltl finished the night shooting above 50 percent from the field.

The Austrian big man finished with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting with five boards and one assist in just 20 minutes. His defense in the paint was helpful but wasn’t enough to curb the strong push to the basket by Miami. The Spurs were outscored 52-28 in the paint, firmly eliminating any chance at winning the slow contest.

San Antonio lost the turnover battle 16-15 but took advantage of Miami’s errors by scoring 25 points off of turnovers. In what’s been a difficult start to the preseason, combo guard Derrick White came off the bench and fell flat, committing five turnovers to only three assists and missing all four of his field goal attempts.

White’s having a difficult time adjusting to the pace of the league after spending his summer working alongside Coach Pop in the FIBA World Cup. The 25-year-old made the most of his experience, beating out a long list of talented players to reach the final roster. However, White hasn’t lived up to his abilities so far in preseason – he needs to curb his troubles before the regular season rolls around and these losses truly start to count.

The same can be said for the Spurs’ stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, who shot a combined 37.5 percent from the field. It’s taking each of the duo a bit of adjusting to shake off the rust of the offseason, but they showed flashes of their chemistry and should be able to adjust before the start of the regular season slate.

Next: This team is still uncomfortable from three-point land

MIAMI, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 08: Marco Belinelli #18 of the San Antonio Spurs brings the ball up the court against the Miami Heat during the first half of the preseason game (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 08: Marco Belinelli #18 of the San Antonio Spurs brings the ball up the court against the Miami Heat during the first half of the preseason game (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

This team is still uncomfortable from three-point land

DeRozan curled off a screen from Aldridge and found the perennial all-star at the top of the key for a three-pointer to start the game. This was a strong sign, but the train never really got rolling for Popovich’s crew. San Antonio took 13 triples to Miami’s 32 and while their percentage was better by 5.8 percent, 30.8 percent from deep is not a mark to marvel at.

Outside of Rudy Gay, who stabilized the Spurs with 12 points on 2-of-5 shooting from deep off the pine, San Antonio feared the three-point line in this matchup. Eight players launched triples for the silver and black, but only three actually connected. Both Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, who’re primarily on the floor to shoot the ball, launched one triple each.

In the case of Mills, who played a solid game with eight points and three boards, it’s evident that he’s still in the mindset of the offensive leader of the Boomers in the FIBA World Cup. By running around screens and creating quick jumpers for himself, Mills can be a one-man wrecking crew against second units and smaller guards. For as talented as he is, this group specifically needs Mills more focused on spacing the floor out and initiating offense for everyone else around him.

The makeup of this roster doesn’t scream “explosive three-point threat,” but it may need to in order to compete and score at the level of its competition. Watching Aldridge firing up threes is encouraging, but DeRozan needs to get his shot in order to help balance out the team.

To replace the value lost in the Davis Bertans trade, Popovich needs his shooters in line and prepared to step outside of their comfort zones.

Next: Addressing defense in the paint – or lack thereof

MIAMI, FL – OCTOBER 8: Chris Silva #30 of the Miami Heat dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on October 8, 2019 at American Airlines Arena (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – OCTOBER 8: Chris Silva #30 of the Miami Heat dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on October 8, 2019 at American Airlines Arena (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

Addressing defense in the paint – or lack thereof

Once the ball started moving, the Heat used their large, athletic lineup to slash into the paint and give the Spurs hell under the rim. Although LaMarcus and Poeltl started alongside each other, the rotation was stiff and didn’t allocate enough rim protection properly, so Miami’s bigs were able to impose their will upon San Antonio.

This exposed a larger flaw in the Spurs’ strategy for this season. For as much as the team claims to be putting emphasis on defense with the return of Dejounte Murray and the implementation of DeMarre Carroll, it didn’t show all too much against the Heat. They were held to underwhelming shooting percentages and an 18-point margin of defeat, which is unacceptable for a team hoping to improve upon its seventh seed performance from last season.

A large part in their success during the postseason came from their ability to stop Denver from scoring in the paint. This derived from the Spurs’ strategy of keeping one of Aldridge and Poeltl on the floor at all times when going up against skilled bigs.

The athletic ability of Bam Adebayo proved to be tough for San Antonio to handle, as he finished with 14 points, two blocks and eight boards in only 23 minutes of action.

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With the direction that this league is trending, undersized bigs with bounce are going to fill in at center much more often. This means that the lumbering movement of Aldridge will likely get beat when he’s slotted at the five spot, especially if he moves with as little agility as he did in the loss to Miami.

From the looks of it, the Spurs aren’t going all out in preseason. The hustle was minimal, and the team’s energy seemed low all around. The aggressiveness of their opponent’s pursuit of the basket will increase once the stakes do later in the month, and the Spurs need to be ready to face up against the league’s elite bigs.

If Adebayo and the Heat can dominate the paint against San Antonio, there’s no telling what players like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic can do against this squad.

Next. 15 Greatest Defenders in Spurs History

This will be tested in the Spurs’ next preseason game, a return to the AT&T Center to face Zion Williamson and the new-look Pelicans for the first time this year.

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