San Antonio Spurs: What we learned from the NBA’s opening day

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks at the San Antonio Spurs bench after making his third straight straight three-point basket during the second half at Staples Center on February 4, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks at the San Antonio Spurs bench after making his third straight straight three-point basket during the second half at Staples Center on February 4, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 03: (L-R) Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers, DeMar DeRozan #10 head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs get together at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 03: (L-R) Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers, DeMar DeRozan #10 head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs get together at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Last night, two games were held inside the Orlando bubble that had direct impacts on what we should expect from the San Antonio Spurs’ season.

NBA basketball is BACK and your San Antonio Spurs are just hours away from their return to play. Their matchup against the Sacramento Kings is one that will have a drastic impact on their ability to reach the 2020 NBA Playoffs and based on last night’s results, there’s a decent chance for the silver and black to sneak in there.

After a formidable battle against a Utah Jazz squad that the Spurs will see twice in their eight-game regular-season stretch, the New Orleans Pelicans were bumped back to the No. 11 seed. The difference in winning percentage is only 0.02 percent in favor of New Orleans and if the Spurs win today, they can jump up into the 10th seed from the 12th.

That 2-point victory for Utah was followed by a Clash of the Titans as LeBron and AD’s Los Angeles Lakers battle Kawhi and PG’s LA Clippers. It was a fateful duel that went down to a last-second heave by George as time expired. King James drove quickly down the lane with the game tied up, botched a layup attempt but hung in mid-air to put the loose ball back and finish off the Lakers’ first win against their crosstown rival this season.

Believe it or not, there were legitimate aspects of these games that pertained to the San Antonio Spurs. While they don’t face either of the Los Angeles teams in the remaining regular-season games, they might have to see them if they reach the postseason. Without further adieu, here are a few things we saw in last night’s resumption of play that impact San Antonio in the bubble.

Next: Prepare yourself for change

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues with DeMar DeRozan #10 against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues with DeMar DeRozan #10 against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Recent iterations of the San Antonio Spurs have been political and that’s probably going to be amplified inside the Walt Disney World bubble.

Being that star wing DeMar DeRozan grew up in Compton, CA and that head coach Gregg Popovich is probably the most ‘woke’ 71-year-old white man you’ll ever meet, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t afraid to speak their minds. In recent years, Pop has been both praised and admonished for his comments on the state of this country.

All of this is going to be ramped up tenfold inside the bubble and you’ll need to adjust to the fact that sports and human rights issues can’t be separated anymore. The only way that NBA basketball could return was so long as the players were given the chance to speak up for the issues that they believe in. Given the current political climate and rampant misconduct by police targeted at Black individuals, the NBA and its players are tired of it.

“We’re dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality … We cannot stop with our foot on the gas …”

—LeBron on the NBA’s fight for social justice pic.twitter.com/wn8qUDJw6P

— ESPN (@espn) July 31, 2020

Brace yourself if this kind of thing bothers you, but players are going to kneel for the anthem, speak on Black issues, promote justice, equality and fair treatment for people of color and use their platform to stand up instead of allowing themselves to keep quiet. They’re going to force you to face the reality that Black people are mistreated in this country and promote a better future.

If that bothers you, then your favorite basketball team is going to put the ball in your court and indirectly ask — ‘Why do you have a problem with this?’

They’ve made it abundantly clear, to the point where I don’t know why I even have to say this, that kneeling is not making a statement about the troops. It’s about police brutality and racial injustice.

Basketball is back, but with a caveat: If you want to watch these players for entertainment value, then you have to listen to their stories and hear about what they believe in.

Next: Is it really worth it?

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers wants a foul call on Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs after making a basket versus the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers wants a foul call on Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs after making a basket versus the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Winning the eighth seed is booking a first-round exit for the San Antonio Spurs.

Making that final playoff spot is probably not worth the hassle. I admit that it’s probably a pessimistic way of looking at things, but there’s a thin line between pessimism and realism. Watching those goliaths battle in what’s expected by many to be a Western Conference Finals preview unearthed the sad truth that being the eighth seed is a death sentence.

Some years, the eighth seed is a fiery team that was damaged by injuries and chemistry issues while the No. 1 seed lucked its way into the best record in the conference. That’s not the case this year as the Los Angeles Lakers are definitively the best regular-season team in the West led by a superstar in his prime and arguably the greatest player to ever grace the sport.

Riding the exhilaration of a run to the playoffs would be infinitely more fun than getting swept by the Lakers in the first round. With that in mind, it’d be more logical for San Antonio to let young players get their feet wet against tough competition and keep their fingers crossed for a better draft pick. For better or for worse, that’s just not how the Spurs operate — even when the people in charge are blatantly open about this being a developmental period.

Another look at LeBron’s game-winner ? pic.twitter.com/7OhEAaxXTL

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 31, 2020

San Antonio could get hot and take a game, maybe two from either of these opponents. The Spurs took one of this year’s meetings against the Clippers and were progressively worse each time they played the Lakers, so no matter what, it’s going to be a rough go of it.

The Spurs don’t have anyone who’s ready to go after the four stars between those two teams, so they might as well take that draft pick and go along their merry way.

Next: Maybe we underestimated Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – FEBRUARY 21: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs attempts to pass around Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz during a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – FEBRUARY 21: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs attempts to pass around Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz during a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Maybe the San Antonio Spurs won’t have as easy of a time as we thought against the Utah Jazz.

With the loss of their third-best player to surgery and chemistry issues since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Utah Jazz wasn’t a team that many people had high expectations for going into this restart. While Donovan Mitchell is a blast to watch and Rudy Gobert is a defensive menace in the paint, the rest of the roster is relatively unproven and if either of those guys is having an off-night, it’s going to be hard for their teammates to pick up the slack.

However, I think the demise of the Jazz may have been overstated after watching their performance against the New Orleans Pelicans. If long-time Spurs rival Mike Conley is going to play the way he did against New Orleans’ talented defensive backcourt, they might cause some problems in the West.

San Antonio was highly successful against Utah this year, winning both matchups by a decent margin as the young players put up some of their best games. This isn’t to say that the Spurs won’t have a fighting chance, since the Pelicans only lost by two while playing Zion fewer than 20 minutes the whole game, Utah isn’t just going to fall apart.

Seeing these teams split their two meetings is probably the most likely scenario considering Popovich knows how to scheme against them despite Utah possessing more top-end talent. Going into these games without LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be especially tough as his defensive presence and floor spacing drew Gobert out of the paint whereas Poeltl doesn’t have that impact.

The Spurs’ jump shooters will need to pop off for the team to survive against the Stifle Tower.

Next: The Wild Card of the Western Conference

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 22: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans makes a shot over DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs at Smoothie King Center. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 22: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans makes a shot over DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs at Smoothie King Center. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs had the New Orleans Pelicans’ number in recent years, but it won’t be a cakewalk these days.

New Orleans is a well-coached team with an expertly-constructed roster and a few legitimate go-to players to depend on inside the bubble. Rookie phenom Zion Williamson detonated against the Spurs in limited action during their first meeting and now, the Spurs’ frontcourt rotation is thinner than its been in years. Zion is probably going to destroy San Antonio when they meet in a few weeks, but there are still holes in the Pelicans’ armor.

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Objectively, Brandon Ingram is the best player on that team. However, the Most Improved candidate doesn’t play all too well with Zion on the floor and that chemistry needs to develop for New Orleans to rack up some wins in the bubble. Basketball is a team-based game and it’s rare that one guy can singlehandedly carry a team to victory, so if the Spurs play their brand of basketball and limit the rest of the Pelicans, they can take that pivotal game down the stretch.

New Orleans is considered by many to be the largest threat to the Grizzlies’ eighth seed. Personally, I’d put Portland above them because they have an All-NBA player and a healthy roster for the first time all season, but to each their own.

When the Pelicans are at their best, they’re slinging deep 3-pointers at a high rate and capitalizing on their opponent’s inability to keep up. These days, the Spurs are starting three solid perimeter defenders at spots one-through-three who can switch and have the tools to force turnovers. San Antonio is transforming into an up-tempo ballclub that fits with the modern era of basketball.

Next. Three X-Factors for Success in NBA's Return

This matchup is one that we’re going to keep an eye on and will see develop for years to come in the Southwest Division

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