The San Antonio Spurs have a shot at making the NBA playoffs, but they must take care of business against the Houston Rockets to assure that stays the case.
In a season like no other, the chances of seeing the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA playoffs were all but dead when the NBA was forced to shut down in March. Short two starters in Orlando, not many expected much to change, but a revitalized Spurs squad has given fans new hope.
Standing in the way of a 23rd consecutive playoff berth are none other than San Antonio’s interstate rival, the Houston Rockets. While dropping the game to Houston wouldn’t mathematically eliminate the Spurs from a potential play-in for the eighth seed, it would severely decrease their chances.
A loss would mean two teams between the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers would need to each lose twice in their remaining games while the Spurs win their final game against the Utah Jazz.
The Rockets announced on Monday that James Harden would be sitting out the game, given that it’s the first game of a back-to-back for Houston. Eric Gordon will also be missing the game while Russell Westbrook will be making his return to the court following a quad injury.
Considering the absence of Harden, the rejuvenated Spurs have more than enough talent to knock off the Rockets for the second time this season if they can do a few things right.
Next: 3 Keys to victory
3 Keys to a San Antonio Spurs win
1. Close out, close out, close out.
As they’ve been doing every season since 2016-17, the Houston Rockets are once again leading the league in 3-point attempts per game. The 45 attempts they take from distance account for 49.7 percent of their shots are from 3. As a result, their 118.5 points per game is second in the league.
By contrast, the Spurs shoot about one-third of their shots from downtown (32 percent). San Antonio almost assuredly will lose the 3-point battle given Houston’s affinity with the shot. What the Spurs must do, however, is contest shots and not leave certain guys wide open on the perimeter.
While Harden will be sitting this one out, there are stills guys like Ben McLemore and Jeff Green that can really hurt the Spurs if they aren’t disciplined on the perimeter. McLemore has experienced a career renaissance in Houston, becoming one of their most prolific shooters at 45.2 percent. His 3-point shooting percentage of 40.6 is also the best on the Rockets, just ahead of Jeff Green. Since the Rockets gave up Clint Capela for Robert Covington, they’re now capable of hitting from beyond the arc at all five positions at all times.
Needless to say, the Spurs need to be aware of the 3-point line.
Next: Crashing the glass
2. Punish the Rockets on the glass
When the Houston Rockets fully committed to micro-ball, they knew they would be sacrificing any semblance of an advantage on the boards. Their philosophy is that rebounds can be made up for with a high-octane offense, which has been working out for them so far.
The Rockets are 4-1 in the Orlando campus, coming off a victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday that improved their record to 44-25. The biggest key to their success has been their ability to score the ball. Still, with long shots come a lot of misses. The Spurs will need to be ready to dominate on the glass, as they should, against a team that’s 22nd in the league in field goal percentage (45.3).
This is the type of game that the likes of Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks could be key in when it comes to keeping possessions alive for the Spurs and limiting them for the Rockets. After combining for 25 boards against the New Orleans Pelicans, they have to use their aggressiveness and size to have a repeat performance on Tuesday.
Drew Eubanks after finishing with 8 pts, 11 rebs, 3 assists, 2 steals & 2 blocks: "The game is starting to slow down for me. I know where I can be effective and the coaches have done a good job of helping me understand my role and how I can help the team."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) August 9, 2020
Next: Don't take the Rockets lightly
3. Don’t underestimate a Harden-less Rockets team
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While we’re all used to the Houston Rockets being essentially a one-man wrecking crew, they’ve proven so far this season that they have multiple weapons capable of taking over a game. Austin Rivers is coming off a career-high night against the Kings that saw him score 41 points on 14-of-20 from the field.
Westbrook is also more than capable of taking over a game at will with his ability to do everything well on the court. Westbrook has been a different animal since the calendar year hit 2020, elevating his game to its usual superstar level.
The Spurs will need to use their newfound commitment to defense to contain a team that’s capable of blowing a game wide open with the stroke of a few long-range bombs. Lonnie Walker, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson all have the versatility to switch on the defensive end effectively, which will be critical against D’Antoni’s micro ball.
It’s do or die time for the San Antonio Spurs, and they’ll need all hands on deck to keep their playoff hopes alive on Tuesday.