After two humbling but encouraging losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs will see how they stack up against some other teams in the West.
After two impressive victories to begin the season, the San Antonio Spurs were burned by a road loss in New Orleans, followed by two tough losses against the defending champions. Most notable in their first two weeks of action has been Keldon Johnson’s emergence, who put up a monster line of 26 points and 10 rebounds, all while defending LeBron James on Friday.
With LaMarcus Aldridge missing the last two games with knee soreness, the Spurs were punished on the boards and in the paint against the Lakers, who easily boast the deepest frontcourt in the league. The good news is that San Antonio got two of their games against the Lakers out of the way early. The bad news? They’re seeing them one more time this week.
Beginning Sunday, the Spurs will be hitting the court every other day this week and won’t have consecutive days off until February 4th and 5th. I believe we’ll see Gregg Popovich rolling with a starting lineup of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, and Dejounte Murray as his staple, but given the tight scheduling, don’t be surprised to see some of the elder statesmen getting some nights off.
As San Antonio looks to get back to and above .500 this week, here are my thoughts on how they’ll do in each contest.
Next: Game 1
1. Utah Jazz @ San Antonio Spurs, 1/3 @ 7 pm ET
Other than the meaningless season finale in the bubble in which the Spurs were already out of the playoffs, San Antonio dominated the Utah Jazz last season. The Spurs won the first three matchups with the Jazz by seven, nine, and eight points, with their most decisive victory in Utah.
Short of their draft picks of Udoka Azubuike and Elijah Hughes, the Jazz had a very Spurs-like offseason in that they kept everything else pretty much the same. With their core of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson locked in, the Jazz have a formidable group that was one shot away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season.
While we’re only five games in, Mike Conley is averaging a career-high in points per game at 21.4 so far, leading the Jazz to a 3-2 start. Rudy Gobert is also likely to continue the ongoing headache of impossible-to-box-out centers the Spurs have been dealing with for the last three games.
Looking back at their last two performances, I feel like the Spurs probably would have come out with a win against any other team but the Lakers. It’s going to be a relief not having to deal with LeBron James or Anthony Davis for a couple of games, so I think San Antonio takes a W in their final game of the homestand.
Final Score prediction: Spurs 106, Jazz 98
Next: Game 2
2. San Antonio Spurs @ L.A. Clippers, 1/5 @ 10 pm ET
To say the L.A. Clippers underperformed in last season’s playoffs would be an understatement. Despite being heavily favored to make the Western Conference Finals and establishing a 3-1 lead in the second round, the Clippers completely fell apart against the Denver Nuggets.
I certainly fell for the hype myself, as I figured the defensive capabilities of a team with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley on the court was going to take the NBA crown. While watching Leonard struggle mightily in Game 7 was admittedly satisfying, he’s been on a tear early on to erase those memories.
Kawhi is averaging 23.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game on 46.1 percent shooting from the field through four games. There were some major changes after the Clippers’ collapse, beginning with their head coach change from Doc Rivers to Tyronn Lue.
After Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers also acquired Serge Ibaka, who brings championship experience to the roster. They also traded Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder for the sharpshooting Luke Kennard, who’s firing away at a rate of 45 percent from downtown through six games.
This matchup with San Antonio will come down to the ability of guys like Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker to slow down Leonard and Paul, who are both responsible for a combined 42.2 percent of the Clippers’ offense so far this season. The Clippers are also fifth in the league in 3-point percentage, an area the Spurs have been struggling with so far.
This one’s a tough one, as I feel like the Spurs just showed they can clearly compete with the best of the best against the Lakers. Still, my gut is telling me L.A. sneaks away with one here.
Final Score prediction: Clippers 115, Spurs 110
Next: Games 3 & 4
3. San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers, 1/7 @ 10 pm ET
In last week’s predictions, I thought meeting the Lakers so early in the season could actually be a good thing, as they wouldn’t quite have enough time to gel with each other. Clearly, I was wrong. While the Spurs played the defending champs well on both occasions, there was simply too much depth for San Antonio to overcome.
The biggest key in round three with Los Angeles will be the health of LaMarcus Aldridge. Although he’s lost a few steps defensively, his size does wonders against a tall Lakers squad that exploits their height at every turn.
Since I’ve already broken down this matchup twice this season, I’ll keep this one short. I might regret this because I know the Spurs are more than capable of beating the Lakers on any given day, but they’re a matchup nightmare in just about every position.
I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong, but I feel like we’ll see another competitive game that comes down to L.A. executing one or two things better down the stretch.
Final Score prediction: Lakers 111, Spurs 106
4. San Antonio Spurs @ Minnesota Timberwolves, 1/9 @ 8 pm ET
The Spurs close out their week with back-to-back showdowns with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday and Sunday. San Antonio was winless in two efforts against the Wolves last November, giving up 56 points to Andrew Wiggins and 51 to Karl-Anthony Towns. The good news is half of that duo has since left Minnesota.
Still, the Wolves have since drafted Anthony Edwards first overall while adding Ricky Rubio into the fold. Rubio has been a thorn in the Spurs’ side no matter the team, recently dropping 25 points and 13 assists with Phoenix in a narrow loss due to a Patty Mills game-winner.
Going into the week, the Timberwolves and Spurs are 8th and 9th in pace, so this one promises to be a high-scoring affair at the Target Center. I have San Antonio in this one to give the Spurs a 2-2 record for the week.
Final Score prediction: Spurs 118, Timberwolves 105
Current season prediction record: 2-3