To call the Western Conference a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement. After their impressive victory over the Denver Nuggets, the San Antonio Spurs were sitting at fourth in the standings. One loss later, they’re suddenly ninth with the Rockets biting at their heels.
I wouldn’t expect that to change much as the season goes on, as the West has been a crowded cluster since I can remember. As of Monday morning, only two games separate seeds four through 10. The good news for the Spurs? They won’t have to go the entire month with a maximum of one day’s rest as they had to do all of January (besides the postponed New Orleans game).
Last week, the Spurs outperformed my expectations, going 3-1 with impressive victories over the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets before sputtering out against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Week Ahead for the San Antonio Spurs
Looking ahead, the first week of February will feature three teams responsible for 1/3 of San Antonio’s losses so far, beginning with a grudge match against Memphis. The Spurs will then host another team they’ve struggled with before hitting the road to face a Texas rival.
Here are my predictions for how each game will play out.
Next: Games 1 & 2
1. Memphis Grizzlies @ San Antonio Spurs, 2/1 @ 8:30 PM ET
The San Antonio Spurs were outplayed in every facet of the game against Memphis on Saturday. The Grizzlies had a dominant offensive performance from start to finish, shooting 17-of-35 from beyond the arc while also scoring 56 points in the paint.
The Spurs, meanwhile, only hung around by getting to the free throw line 26 times and converting on 21 of those. With Derrick White‘s return, Gregg Popovich will have to figure out how to best balance his minutes with guys like Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker. In Saturday’s game, White played 22 minutes while Vassell’s minutes were cut in half.
Since the last game was on the second night of a back-to-back, that could explain some of the choices Coach Popovich made, such as giving Trey Lyles 11 minutes in the second half. Monday’s rematch should give us a bigger clue as to how he’ll distribute minutes around going forward.
The Spurs’ starting lineup has to show more pride in not being outplayed as often as has been occurring recently. I think they get things back together to get revenge on Memphis.
Prediction: Spurs 114, Grizzlies 107
Update (2/2): Well, not my best moment.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves @ San Antonio Spurs, 2/3 @ 8:30 PM ET
Although they’re just 5-14 heading into Monday’s game in Cleveland, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been a matchup nightmare for the Spurs. In a two-game January homestand, San Antonio needed overtime to squeak past Minnesota before falling to them the next night.
Malik Beasley is playing the best basketball of his young career, averaging 20.2 points and 4.8 rebounds for the Wolves. He’s been especially productive against the Spurs, nailing 10 of his 17 shots from the perimeter and scoring 53 in the two games so far.
After torching Minnesota for 38 points in the Spurs’ victory on January 9th, DeMar DeRozan had to sit out the next night for personal reasons, a game in which San Antonio lost by eight. If the Spurs can hold reserves like Naz Reid and Ricky Rubio in check, they have more than enough firepower to reclaim the series lead over the Wolves. I think the Spurs pull away in the second half of this one.
Prediction: Spurs 105, Timberwolves 94
Next: Game 3
3. San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets, 2/6 @ 8 PM ET
After a messy divorce with James Harden, the Houston Rockets certainly look like a rejuvenated ballclub. Their first game post-trade was like an exorcism of basketball demons — unfortunately, the Spurs were on the receiving end of that process.
Despite being severely shorthanded in their trip to the Alamo City, the Rockets nearly pulled off the two-game sweep in mid-January before the Spurs finally pulled away late on night two. The biggest reason for this? A man by the name of Christian Wood. Despite our numerous efforts to will a Spurs-Wood connection into fruition, the Rockets were the lucky winners, and have vastly improved as a result.
Christian Wood is having an All-Star season in Houston, averaging 23.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. He’s also arguably the biggest matchup nightmare for LaMarcus Aldridge in the league.
With John Wall and Victor Oladipo now healthy, the Rockets suddenly look like the playoff team they’ve been for the last eight seasons.
The Spurs struggle defending athletic bigs and keeping up with high-volume 3-point shooters, and I think they might let this one slip in Houston’s first home game since January 28th.
Prediction: Rockets 110, Spurs 102
Current season prediction record: 10-10