The San Antonio Spurs must beat the Utah Jazz to keep their playoff hopes alive
After back to back frustrating losses, you couldn’t blame San Antonio Spurs fans for coming into this next matchup with the Utah Jazz a little dejected. But of all the teams left on the Spurs schedule, the Spurs have had the most success against Utah this year.
The Spurs have come away winners in both of their matchups with Utah this year. But they’re a vastly different team now then they were during the first portion of the regular season.
Even as the coaching staff and players have emphasized the importance of player development in the bubble you know they have one eye towards the possibility of making the playoffs. The Spurs chances are slim, but they’re not out of the race yet. These last two losses have hurt but if they win out they will be very much in the hunt for the eighth or ninth seed. This next game is a must-win.
Frankly, Spurs fans owe the Utah Jazz a bit of a thank you. They’ve handed key losses to both the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, and in doing so, improved the Spurs chances of making the postseason. That gratitude can be saved for after the game though. For now, let’s focus on what the San Antonio Spurs need to do to come away with a win.
Next: Stay with what's working
San Antonio Spurs should play Derrick White and Keldon Johnson together
Derrick White and Keldon Johnson have been two of the most impressive players for the San Antonio Spurs through these first few games in Orlando. White has exploded as the team’s most dangerous deep threat, and their best player, through four games and Keldon has been playing with relentless energy while also improving seemingly every night.
Each one of them has been incredibly impressive in their own right but when they’re together…man it’s dangerous. Credit to Paul Garcia for digging this stat up but look at how dominant the duo of White and Johnson have been when they’ve played together in Orlando.
Per CTG, when Keldon Johnson and Derrick White are on the floor together, the Spurs outscore teams by 24.3 pp/100 (100th percentile 'elite') in 206 possessions.
Offense: 128.6 pp/100 (100th)Defense: 104.3 pp/100 (93rd)
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) August 6, 2020
That’s two of the teams most important players running opponents off the court on both ends of the floor. You absolutely love to see it. To be fair, it’s come in a small sample size – they’ve shared the court for just 49 minutes over the past four games – but there’s enough there to tell the coaching staff that this is a partnership worth exploring more.
One option that has been floated out there has been replacing Lonnie Walker in the starting lineup with Johnson. It could be tricky, you’d hate to do anything that might diminish Lonnie’s confidence but if these games in the bubble are really about player development then experimenting with new lineups is the way to go.
Adding Johnson into the starting lineup would also give the Spurs more versatility on defense. Lonnie’s shown potential on that end but Johnson has the edge on him right now. A lineup featuring Johnson, White, Dejounte Murray, and Jakob Poeltl could be one that puts the clamps on opposing teams.
Next: Keep feeding Rudy Gay
The San Antonio Spurs have to keep getting Rudy Gay involved
In a word, Rudy Gay has been an absolute bucket over the San Antonio Spurs last two games. He set a new season-high with 24 points against the Philadelphia 76ers and then went out and matched it against the Nuggets.
We’ve always known that Rudy could put up points but he fell off a bit this season. It’s nice to see that he’s refinding his stride when the Spurs need him most.
Over the past two games, his scoring off the bench has been key for keeping the Spurs in games. In that small period, the Spurs have scored 127.2 points per possessions when he’s been on the floor compared to 115.6 when he sits. That’s not a small swing and it could be the difference-maker against Utah.
Both Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks have their redeeming qualities as players but spacing the floor is not one of them. Their offensive games are confined to the paint and they’re not much of a threat outside of that. That could be an issue against the Jazz.
With the Jazz big men patrolling the paint, unworried about one of Eubanks or Poeltl punishing them for staying inside, it’s going to be harder for the Spurs guards to find the open looks at the rim that they need to keep the offense flowing. Deploying Gay as a small-ball center could draw them out far enough that San Antonio’s perimeter players can get clean looks, or if they stays low Gay is a reliable enough 3-point shooter that finding him in a corner is another excellent option.
In the words of John Wall, Rudy has been getting BUCKET bucket’s. Feed the hot hand and keep getting Rudy the ball.
Next: Can Dejounte Murray find his way
San Antonio Spurs need Dejounte Murray to regain his mojo
We don’t want to overreact to two games but something has been off with Dejounte Murray in the San Antonio Spurs recent back to back losses. He’s made untypical mistakes, his shots haven’t been falling, and he’s looked lost at times.
Thankfully, DJ is in a great spot to have a bounce-back game against Utah. He’s had two of his better games against the Jazz – he’s averaged 19.5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3.5 steals per game across the two matchups this year – so he’s no stranger to having good games against this team.
Another thing that Murray has going for him is the plethora of players the Jazz will have sitting out due to one ailment or another. Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neal, and Rudy Gobert will all be sitting out. Expect a lot of minutes from Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay. And, with all due respect to those guys, neither are what you would consider a defensive stopper.
This is a game that the Spurs should win and Dejounte can be a huge part of that victory. Look for the Spurs to get him going early and follow his lead to a much-needed win.
There’s a lot riding on the line of this next game. It’s an early one – a noon tip-off – so wake up ready to cheer on our San Antonio Spurs.