Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (middle) with help from teammate Derrick Favors (22) takes a shot as he gets past San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (left) during the second half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs face New Orleans for the first time this season
Fresh off of the heels of an impressive win over the Toronto Raptors, the San Antonio Spurs are back in action tonight as they face the New Orleans Pelicans on the road. This marks the first matchup between the two up and coming squads.
The Spurs and Pelicans had some tough battles last year. San Antonio spoiled Zion’s NBA debut in January and then handed the Pelicans another loss in the bubble. Can they keep that trend going this year?
This Pelicans team looks markedly different than the one that we saw last year. Gone is Jrue Holiday and in comes Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, and Kira Lewis Jr. The loss of Holiday certainly stings but with Zion, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram this is still a very formidable team.
The Spurs aren’t slouches by any stretch either. They’ve got a perfect record so far and have been playing a new, fast-paced brand of team basketball that’s a breath of fresh air. The young guys are slinging the ball around, having fun while doing it, while also knowing when to defer to DeMar DeRozan when things get tight.
This should be a good matchup between two division rivals who’ve got a long history of intense games. Here are three matchups that will define tonight’s contest.
What happens when Keldon Johnson meets Zion Williamson
Johnson packed on muscle over the offseason but he’s still not nearly as girthy as Zion. But if you think that’ll stop him from challenging Zion on his way to the rim you clearly haven’t been watching the past two games.
Keldon will go at anyone. He’s absolutely fearless when driving to the rim, sometimes to his own detriment. There were times in the Raptors game where he threw himself into the thick of the defense and got rejected. But I’d rather have him keep banging away than ever get deterred or passive on the court.
The more important area of this matchup to watch will be how Johnson holds up against Zion when he has to guard him on the defensive end. Johnson’s got weight but Zion was bodying players like Steven Adams last year, he’ll have no problem moving Keldon around. How Johnson responds to that will be interesting to watch. Foul trouble could be an issue here if things get too physical.
There are other matchups that will dictate the end result of this game but this might be the most entertaining one and is certainly one that Spurs fans should have their eyes on.
Next: A point guard battle
Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) makes a shot as he gets between San Antonio Spurs’ Lonnie Walker IV (left) and guard Dejounte Murray (middle) during the second half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs matchups to watch: Dejounte Murray against Lonzo Ball
Dejounte Murray recorded the first triple-double of his career last night, will he be able to go back to back when he matches up with Lonzo Ball tonight? Maybe not, but I don’t think Dejounte is concerned with that. He’s focused on getting his team the win and how he performs against Ball will go a long way towards making that happen.
DJ and Ball make an interesting duo. Drafted on opposite ends of the first round, the two have had similar growth in their careers while also overcoming quite different obstacles. Both have grown into bona fide three-level scorers since coming into the league and they’ll be put to the test against one another tonight.
In year’s past, Murray could have afforded to sag off of Ball, keep him out of the lane, and play passing lanes. Not anymore. We talk a lot about the improvements that DJ has made as a three-point shooter but have you seen what Ball has done to his shot?
It seems like every time we see Lonzo play he’s made his shot a little bit smoother. It was, to be blunt, weird as hell when he came into the league. But after hours of work, he’s got himself a smooth jumper and used that to connect on 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts last year. Defenders have to respect his long-range game at this point.
The more interesting part of this matchup will be how Ball defends Murray. Murray’s great at snaking into the lane but there were times against the Raptors where he got himself open but looked almost surprised at how much room he had and was paralyzed by indecision. Should he keep the ball moving or make the easy floater?
He was more differential than I would have liked, often being the good teammate and continuing to whip the ball around. That’s not a bad thing by any means but the opportunities for him to score more were there last night and will likely be there again tonight. Let’s see if he takes advantage of them.
Next: The Rookie and the Vet
Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and San Antonio Spurs guard Devin Vassell (24) celebrate during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs matchups to watch: Devin Vassell against Brandon Ingram
San Antonio Spurs fans were excited to see Devin Vassell play more than anyone else. And after his impressive preseason showing, how could you blame them?
In his first two regular-season games Vassell had been impressive in the limited run he’d had. He played nearly 20 minutes against Memphis and close to 12 against Toronto. Solid playing time, especially for a Spurs rookie, but his biggest night could be against the Pelicans tonight.
On the second night of a back to back, expect Rudy Gay, and possibly even DeMar DeRozan, to have reduced roles. That could open up more minutes for Vassell and could put him in a prime position to match up against Brandon Ingram.
We rave about Vassell’s defensive potential but he’s going to be tested by Ingram. Ingram deservedly made his first All-Star team last year after he proved that he could carry a major scoring load for a team.
He’s lengthy, longer than Vassell, and typically has no problem getting his shot off over opponents. Vassell has the wingspan to contest those shots if he’s in the right position but BI has a nice handle too, he’ll be able to create space unless Vassell is absolutely glued to his hip.
Vassell could be in for another ~15 minutes of playing time or he could see the most regular-season run of his young career. If the latter comes to be, pay special attention to how he guards Ingram. Guarding a player who he bears some similarity to will be a great lesson for the Spurs young rookie.
The San Antonio Spurs have looked great in their first two matchups but they’ll need to be on top of their game again if they want a chance to go 72-0. You can catch them against the Pelicans at 7pm EST.