San Antonio Spurs: January a tone-setting month for playoff hopeful Spurs

Dec 30, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) reacts with guard Dejounte Murray (5) in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) reacts with guard Dejounte Murray (5) in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs need to survive a tough month of January

With their recent loss to the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs have started a stretch against some of the top teams in the Western Conference with a 2-2 record.

The Lakers are on deck to start the new year one more time in San Antonio, then the team hits the road to take on the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Lakers one more time. Can they keep their head above water or will they fall below .500 and have to play catch-up right away?

While their schedule does ease up a little after that, the Spurs will not have consecutive days off until February. These next few weeks will test the team in a lot of ways. Thanks to some stellar play from DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Keldon Johnson, the Spurs have been proven that they will be a competitive team this season regardless of whether or not they make the playoffs.

It’s still very early in the season and it’s not worth getting worked up over any one loss at this point. But if the Spurs want to get back into the playoffs this year, the month of January will be a huge test for them. With 17 games in just 31 days, this stretch will test the team’s endurance, mental toughness, and depth.

January a crucial month for San Antonio Spurs playoff hopes

Speaking of depth, Derrick White returning to the lineup now will lift the Spurs up and improve the team on both the offensive and defensive end. It could be some time before he will be 100% again, even after he returns. How much he can elevate this team remains a hot topic, and it will be interesting to see who will lose minutes upon his return.

But why is this stretch in January so important? It is still very early in the season after all. Well, look at what happened to the Spurs last year.

Through five games last season, they had started 4-1 which most would consider a solid start. However, what would happen after that was a collapse the likes of which we have not seen in decades.

San Antonio would go on to lose ten of their next eleven games with an eight-game losing streak to top it off. That marked their longest streak under Gregg Popovich.

They would never get back above .500 the rest of the season and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, but we know that story already. The point is, the Spurs do not want to find themselves playing catch up early on.

Derrick White’s return will help, but if they want to stay alive in the Western Conference, they will have to hold their own in the month of January.

That’s not to say they won’t or they can’t. Already through four games, we have seen some pretty significant improvements to the team since last year.

The Spurs are currently 14th in defensive rating at 108.7 compared to last year’s rating of 112.6 which was 24th in the entire NBA. Offensively the team is playing with more pace mainly thanks to having versatile wing players playing so many minutes.

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Dejounte Murray is putting up career numbers and DeMar has been playing at an All-Star level. Keldon and Lonnie are constantly aggressive on both the offensive and defensive end which has led to turnovers and fast breaks. Even the rookie, Devin Vassell has quietly put in some solid play in the limited minutes he has gotten.

The frontcourt has been a weak point so far with LaMarcus Aldridge struggling on both ends and still taking up a majority of the minutes at the five. Jakob showed last night he is still a great paint protector but foul trouble remains an issue. LaMarcus is definitely another individual that will have to step up for the Spurs the next month if they want to have any chance of coming out of it alive.

It’s also worth pointing out that the NBA season has been shortened to 72 games this year, so teams that fall behind early will have a much tougher time fighting for a playoff spot come spring.

The Spurs fall into that category of one of the teams fighting for that last playoff spot in the West. They should be a contender in the play-in tournament but would ideally squeeze into the sixth seed and avoid the play-in stress altogether.

The Spurs need an impressive January if they want to make the playoffs, regardless of what seed they might end up getting. They can’t afford to have the same kind of early-season struggles they did last year.

Next. Changes the San Antonio Spurs must make in 2021

The San Antonio Spurs have had an impressive start to the season but this next month will prove if they’re the real deal.