San Antonio Spurs versus New Orleans Pelicans could have playoff energy

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be for a regular-season game as the San Antonio Spurs tackle the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

Given the circumstances of the 2020 NBA Playoff race, Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans is a must-win for the San Antonio Spurs. Only half a game separates the No. 11 Spurs and No. 12 Pelicans in the standings after New Orleans defeated Washington on Saturday. Rookie phenom Zion Williamson rested in that game in preparation for a contest that effectively decides which team gets to remain in the playoff picture through the end of the season.

Considering the gravity of the situation, we may be in for an incredible game on Sunday afternoon. Even though the playoffs are still a short while off, the atmosphere and intensity of this game are going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before in a regular-season game.

San Antonio historically dominates New Orleans with a 47-18 record against that organization. The Southwest Division is no joke with each competitor deserving credit and respect for their place in the league. However, the Pelicans have taken their fair share of pummelings from San Antonio. However, these are very different versions of these teams and the Spurs are at a disadvantage in certain aspects of the equation.

First and foremost, San Antonio doesn’t have anyone to effectively throw at Zion. In the first game, Williamson exploded against Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge, who are both nursing season-ending injuries for the silver and black. Starting center Jakob Poeltl needs to turn it up against the Pelicans as the Spurs’ primary rim defender. If he can limit his fouls and keep on the court for over 30 minutes, San Antonio’s chance of pulling out a win will be drastically improved.

New Orleans is also an exceptional 3-point shooting team. On the season, the Pelicans shoot the sixth-most 3-pointers and drain them at the seventh-best percentage in the league. During these last five games in the bubble, teams are shooting 35.9 percent from the corners and 37.1 percent on above the break on 3-pointers versus the Spurs.

Limiting those shooters needs to be the priority for San Antonio’s perimeter players. For guys like Derrick White and Keldon Johnson, nothing is going to change. However, the veterans like DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Marco Belinelli need to hustle on defense and emphasize perimeter defense despite it being a point of weakness for them.

White is the player who’s most likely to draw the Brandon Ingram assignment. By this point, White is established as the team’s best defensive player. Ingram is a finalist for the Most Improved Player award for good reason — He’s one of the game’s best shot creators with a wide range of skills.

Offensively, the Spurs need to need to keep their momentum rolling. Through their five games in Orlando, the team ranks fifth in points per game with 122.4. They’ve been very unselfish as a whole, racking up assists while placing third in 3-point percentage and third in field goal percentage.

The most important game of the Spurs’ season tips off at 2:00 p.m. central.