Here are the three things the San Antonio Spurs must do to make this three-game homestand a successful one.
After spending the last week on the road, the San Antonio Spurs are back at home and ready to begin a three-game homestand that will put them up against some of the best teams in the NBA. Between the Thanksgiving turkey and apple pie, the Spurs will have to try to build off of the success they had at end of their trip and get their season back on track.
We did see the Spurs continue their longest losing streak in Gregg Popovich’s tenure on their recent road stretch. However, they were able to snap the streak and get back to their winning ways with a win over the New York Knicks.
The win against the Knicks was a nice way to end the trip but is by no means a cause for celebration. There’s still a lot this team can improve on and they’ll so be facing much tougher teams than the Knicks.
The Spurs have a very tough week of opponents ahead of them. The Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and LA Clippers are all coming to San Antonio over the next seven days. San Antonio has already faced each of these teams once and lost every contest.
It’s going to be a tough homestand for the Spurs but if they can use this stretch of strong opponents to their advantage. A win against a team like the Knicks is great but victories against the Clippers and Lakers could be exactly confidence boost this team needs. Here are three things the Spurs must focus on during the homestand in order to be successful.
Next: Focus on defense
Improving on defense
There’s more than a few things that the Spurs can improve on but most of them are on defense. For all of San Antonio’s struggles, they’ve been a pretty consistent offensive team. Despite heavily relying on mid-range scorers, they put together one of the better offenses in the league. It’s on defense that they really need to improve.
One of the most difficult things facing the Spurs this year has been their defensive performances on the perimeter. There was hope that Bryn Forbes would be better on the defensive end this year but so far that has not the case. He has the worst defensive rating of anyone on the team right now.
Forbes isn’t the only one struggling. The Spurs have chosen to play three-guard lineups most nights. This usually pushes DeMar DeRozan onto the opposing team’s larger wing player. He’s not a small player but given the emphasis on having large, rangy wings, he’s often undersized. This, combined with his sub-par effort, has resulted in him getting torched by opposing players on a nightly basis.
DeRozan is just ahead of Forbes in defensive rating with the second-worst rating of any Spurs player. San Antonio’s defensive rating as the team goes from 101 when he is off the court to 116.2 when he’s on the floor. It’s tough to overcome a shift like that but as the Spurs’ most consistent offensive player, DeRozan is hard to bench. San Antonio will have to tinker with ways to overcome that difference throughout the course of this homestand.
San Antonio’s defensive vulnerabilities on the perimeter are going to be tested more than usual over this next stretch of games. It will be very interesting to see how the Spurs try to counter the super-sized wing duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Gregg Popovich might need to get a little creative with his lineups to counter those two.
Next: Experiment with new lineups
Experiment with new lineups
Towards the end of their losing streak, Gregg Popovich finally relented and started experimenting with some new starting lineups. Against the Washington Wizards, he swapped out Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles in favor of Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl. That new group put points on the scoreboard but got unsurprisingly toasted on the defensive end.
Things seem dire now but it wasn’t until early December of last year that Pop made Derrick White a permanent member of the starting five. That insertion totally changed the Spurs season and sent them on a winning stretch of games that helped stabilize their season. Hopefully, a similar realization happens this week.
We have still yet to see White and Dejounte Murray start a game next to one another. That was what many envisioned as the Spurs starting backcourt of the future but they’ve still only played seven minutes together all season. That’s far too small of a sample size to draw too much from but in those seven minutes the had a +26.7 overall net rating. Given the team’s current standing I think that’s something worth experimenting with a little more.
A positive trend that has emerged over the past few games has been the increased playing time for DeMarre Carroll. Carroll was seemingly nailed to the bench over the first few weeks of the season but took on a larger role in the past four games. He’s a solid defender and three-point shooter so it’s surprising that it took the coaching staff this long to make him a regular part of the rotation.
San Antonio doesn’t have many players capable of defending LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George, Carroll is one of the few. An increased role for Carroll this week should not be out of the question and could be exactly what the Spurs need to pull off an upset win at home.
Next: Win more than one game
Win two of the three games
The win against the Knicks was nice because it snapped the losing streak but it still wasn’t that impressive. San Antonio turned the ball over 22 times in against New York. Very rarely is a team able to come away with a win after being that sloppy with the basketball.
All three of the Spurs opponents this week would make the playoffs today and all pose unique challenges. The Timberwolves look like the easiest win out of the bunch but even they handily defeated the Spurs the last time the two played.
A win against the Lakers or Clippers would do wonders for this team right now. Both teams are in the top-three in the conference and are many pundits pick to make the NBA Finals. Beating a team of that caliber can get the Spurs the jolt of confidence they need to get going again.
It’ll be tough to beat the Lakers tonight. They’re coming into the AT&T Center on a seven-game win streak and have looked every bit as dominant as predicted. The pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is wildly difficult to defend and they’re getting get contributions from players like Dwight Howard and Danny Green.
The games against the Wolves and Clippers will be where I predict the Spurs can pull out wins. The Timberwolves are good but beatable. The game against the Clippers comes the Friday after Thanksgiving, that could be a trap game for either team coming off of a fun day of festivities.
This homestand could send the Spurs season either way. If it goes well it could be a springboard to getting San Antonio back on track to making the playoffs. However, if it goes poorly it could be just the final straw that the front office was looking for to make a move.