The San Antonio Spurs are coming off a dominant performance against the Atlanta Hawks in which they led by as many as 42 points. It was the perfect way to start a road trip in which they’ll face six Eastern Conference teams capped off with a game in Oklahoma City. As I wrote back in December, this trip should be what builds the team’s confidence despite the extended time on the road.
The Spurs will be visiting seven opponents in 13 days in their annual Rodeo Road Trip — a tradition that was met with a lowly 2-6 record last season. While last season’s trip was loaded with playoff talent, this season’s looks like one of the easiest the Spurs have had (on paper) in a long time.
Still, Gregg Popovich’s squad knows as well as anyone that any team can beat a given team on any given night. Last week, I built my prediction record back up above .500 with a perfect 3-0 record. With four of the trip’s seven games happening this week, here’s how I think they’ll do in each one this time around.
1. San Antonio Spurs @ Charlotte Hornets, 2/14 @ 7 PM ET
The Charlotte Hornets have won three of their last four while the Spurs have won four of five entering Sunday evening’s matchup. Charlotte’s leading scorer, Gordon Hayward, is probable for the game with lower back discomfort while LaMarcus Aldridge will miss his sixth straight game for San Antonio.
The Spurs have been excelling defensively with Jakob Poeltl in the starting lineup, who’s become one of the most effective defenders in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Hornets are hovering just below average in both defensive and offensive rating but are averaging a second-best 27.6 assists per game this season.
Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball drives the Hornets’ offense, but their entire starting lineup impressively all average three assists or more each. To avoid an upset, San Antonio will need to cut down on back cuts and open threes like they were giving up to the Warriors in their recent two-game series.
After starting off their road trip with a convincing win in Atlanta, this is the first trap game of many I see coming soon. I think the Spurs might come out a little sluggish in this one but ultimately should come out on top after a strong second half.
Final Score: Spurs 115, Hornets 108
Next: Game 2
2. San Antonio Spurs @ Detroit Pistons, 2/16 @ 7 PM ET
The Detroit Pistons have an awful record, but they seem to be taking pride in being giant killers. While just 7-19 going into Sunday, all but one of those victories were against teams currently in the playoff hunt, including two over the Boston Celtics. They also pushed the defending champion Lakers to double overtime in behind 32 points from Jerami Grant one week ago.
For whatever reason, the Pistons get up for big games against good opponents — sometimes. After hosting the New Orleans Pelicans on Valentine’s Day, they will host the Spurs for an evening showdown Tuesday.
Detroit is in the bottom third of the league in both offense and defense at 23rd and 21st, respectively. Paced by Grant’s 23.3 points per game, Detroit gets nearly 18 percent of their points from the free throw line — an area in which the Spurs usually limit.
This one will likely come down to which version of the Pistons shows up this time around, but I think San Antonio’s balanced offensive attack will prove too overwhelming in the end.
Final Score: Spurs 117, Pistons 108
Next: Games 3 & 4
3. San Antonio Spurs @ Cleveland Cavaliers, 2/17 @ 8 PM ET
After starting the season 10-11, the Cavaliers have been in a February freefall. They’ve lost six in a row and now have matchups with the Clippers, Warriors, and Spurs coming up. Cleveland could very well be on an eight-game losing streak when they welcome the Silver and Black to Quick Loans Arena on Wednesday.
After having lost six straight to the Spurs in recent years, the Cavaliers won both against them last season, both of which went into overtime. San Antonio had no answer for Collin Sexton in either game, giving up an average of 27 points to the young guard.
A desperate team is tough enough to deal with, but a back-to-back just puts this one over the top for me. Until the Spurs can prove they can win on the second night of a back-to-back, I’m not going to bet on it.
Final Score: Cavaliers 111, Spurs 105
4. San Antonio Spurs @ New York Knicks, 2/20 @ 1 PM ET
Any time the Spurs have to play at noon, I get a little bit worried for them. The Knicks are another team that isn’t playing great but still keeping themselves in the playoff picture in the East. While they only score 103.4 points per game (last in the league), they also give up the fewest at 103.2 points per game.
The Knicks’ offense this season flashes back to the old school days of NBA basketball. They’re dead last in pace of play at 95.6 possessions per 48 minutes. They’re also 29th in both 3-pointers made and attempted. Based on this, you’d think they generate much of their offense from the charity stripe, but even that is near the bottom third of the league at 19th.
The Spurs simply need to play fundamental and smart basketball to come away with what should be a comfortable victory at Madison Square Garden. They’re superior on both ends of the ball and have no business dropping a game in New York as they’ve done in every other trip to New York since the 2012-13 season. Starting with that season, the Spurs’ record at MSG is as follows:
’12-13: L ’13-14: W ’14-15: L ’15-16: W ’16-17: L ’17-18: W ’18-19: L ’19-20: W ’20-21: ?
If the eight-season long trend is to be believed, San Antonio is due for a loss on Saturday. However, I’m going against the grain and saying the Spurs’ offense finds a way to break through New York’s tough defense in a lower-scoring affair.
Final Score: Spurs 100, Knicks 95
Current season prediction record: 14-12