Spurs: 3 things to watch for against the Cleveland Cavaliers
By Ethan Farina
After nearly a week off the San Antonio Spurs are back in action. The Spurs will try to build their second win streak of the season as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s been six days since we last saw the San Antonio Spurs last play. During the regular season a break that long feels like an eternity. The near week of rest is the longest stretch between games that the Spurs will have all season with the All-Star break being the lone exception.
The Spurs are coming off of back to back difficult overtime wins. But they’ve plenty of time to rest up and regroup before tonight’s contest. Starting games strong has been an issue for San Antonio so far. They have no reason not to come out aggressive and full of energy.
Cleveland has been one of the worst teams to start the season and will be coming into tonight’s game on a seven-game losing streak. Even still they’ve got a few players who can hurt the Spurs.
The backcourt duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland is one of the most inexperienced in the league but they’ve still got enough gas to make an impact if left unchecked. Kevin Love is still playing at an elite level and Tristan Thompson can dominate the boards on the right night.
With the shifting lineups and the emergence of Lonnie Walker, the Spurs had plenty to work on in their extended time off. Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s contest with the Cavs.
Next: Lonnie Walker's role
What will Lonnie Walker’s role be?
Even though he was coming off of the best game of his young career, Lonnie Walker was again stuck riding the bench for much of the Spurs overtime win against the Kings. After playing nearly 35 minutes in against the Rockets, Lonnie logged just under 12 against Sacramento.
Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, and Dejounte Murray showed up against the Kings. Belinelli’s play stands out as the main reason Walker didn’t receive the same run as he did the game before. Marco played just over 18 minutes after receiving a “DNP – Coaches Decision” the game before.
This just goes to show you that minutes are hard for young players to come by on the Spurs. Gregg Popovich will typically rely on players who are riding a hot hand or players he trusts before going to the younger guys. Marco checked both boxes against Sacramento.
The extended time off should have given Walker a few extra opportunities to prove that he deserves a larger and more consistent role in the rotation. As he told Tom Osborn of my San Antonio, swings in playing time is a part of the game he understands and accepts
“You just have to be patient, day in and day out,” he said. “You know the coaches have your best interest (in mind). A lot of (them) told me to stay ready. So, day in and day out, as long as I put my 110 percent effort in during practice or whatever, I’m happy with the decision.”
Walker is too talented and too impactful to stay on the bench forever. His role is sure to grow and more defined as the season goes along but it seems that it will still remain fluid for now.
He’s had almost a week to give 110 percent effort in practice and show he deserves more playing time. It will be interesting to see how this break affected his role on the team, if at all.
Next: A fully unleashed Dejounte Murray
Dejounte Murray playing without a minutes restriction
After a long road to recovery from a torn ACL, San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray is finally free. After Murray played nearly 32 minutes in the overtime win against the Kings, a season-high, Gregg Popovich dismissed concerns about Murray’s restriction.
Having Murray free of a minute restriction won’t be the one thing that fixes the Spurs flimsy perimeter defense but it should help. If anything it will give Pop more flexibility to let Murray play through rough patches without having to worry about a minute cap.
Murray has already made an All-Defensive Team in his young career but has taken a step back on the defensive end this year. His defensive rating of 111.1 is the worst of his career. It could be a case of trying to do too much too soon. DJ is a fierce competitor and a great defender but it seems like he’s been gambling a bit and hunting for steals more often.
It’s worked out fairly well, he’s averaging a career-best 2.5 steals per 36 minutes but we’ve also seen an increase in his fouls, he’s up to 3.7 fouls per 36 minutes. He hasn’t fouled out of any games and his aggressiveness on defense is part of what makes him such a threat but it’s something worth watching as the season continues.
Along with Lonnie Walker, Murray is one of the best athletes on the team. His freedom to play maximum minutes should allow Pop to experiment with lineups more to find ways to get his best athletes on the floor together. One lineup that shows immense potential is one that features Walker, Murray, Jakob Poeltl, and Rudy Gay.
The four have only played seven minutes together but the results have been absurd. A 125 offensive rating and 68.8 defensive rating for an overall net rating of +56.2 is one of the best marks on the team. It’s a lineup that makes sense. Murray and Walker can both move the ball well. Walker and Gay provide solid outside shooting, and Poeltl can hold down the paint.
With DJ free and clear of all restriction Pop will finally have the unlimited flexibility he needs to find out which lineups work best for San Antonio. Pairing Walker and Murray together as often as possible should be a point of emphasis going forward.
Next: Future Spur, Kevin Love?
Kevin Love is ready to be traded
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cleveland Cavaliers are ready to listen to trade offers for their All-Star forward Kevin Love. The San Antonio Spurs typically don’t make splashy trade’s mid-way through the season but Love has been linked to the Spurs in the past.
San Antonio is walking the line between contending and rebuilding right now. There’s an intriguing combination of veterans and young assets that allow the Spurs to veer in either direction if they choose. Blowing it up and going into a full rebuild has never been the Spurs style. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have both been involved in trade discussions but nothing too concrete has come up.
Making a deal for Love would immediately elevate the Spurs back into the upper echelon of Western Conference teams. Pairing Love with Aldridge would give San Antonio one of the best forward combinations in the league but there are some concerns around the age of the two.
Love is 31 and Aldridge is 34, pairing the two together would re-open the Spurs championship window, but for how long? You also have to consider the financial implications that Love’s $120 million dollar contract would have on the Spurs for years to come.
With large, near expiring contracts like that of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills, the Spurs could make a deal work. The question is whether they could acquire Love without giving up too many young assets. Walker and Murray should be the only two who are viewed as untouchable for now. If San Antonio could bring K-Love to the Alamo City for less than that they should consider pulling the trigger.
Tonight’s game against the Cavs is one that the San Antonio Spurs should win. Watching these three sub-plots throughout the night will make the game more interesting.