Mar 17, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) handles the ball while defended by Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs desperately need to pull out of this slump
The San Antonio Spurs currently find themselves in the midst of a massive homestand but have so far been unable to use the home-court advantage to lead to meaningful wins. After getting blown out by the LA Clippers on Wednesday night, they sputtered and struggled to get going in the rematch on Thursday.
Now it’s the Chicago Bulls’ turn to come to San Antonio. Fresh off of trading for Nikola Vuceivc – who will be available for his Bulls debut on Saturday night – Chicago comes to town looking for a win over their own after losing a few in a row.
It’s not quite time to hit the panic button but there’s no denying that the Spurs are in a bit of a rut right now. You know it, I know, heck, even the players know it. DeMar DeRozan told Jeff McDonald as much after their second loss to the Clippers.
“We know we can do it (Get back on track). We’ve done it for the majority of the season. We’ve competed with the best of the best teams. Right now, we just have hit that wall and we have to get up and keep going”
We can critique the on-court product but don’t question this group’s will or competitiveness. As we saw last season, things can get bleak but this is a team that is not going to throw in the towel and resign themselves to tanking for a higher draft pick. Returning to the playoffs has always been the goal and that’s not changing just because of a few ugly losses.
They’ll have an excellent to do exactly that tonight. Here’s what they need to focus on in order to beat the Chicago Bulls and get back on the right path.
The San Antonio Spurs have to make slowing down Nikola Vucevic a priority
The San Antonio Spurs are pretty familiar with Nikola Vucevic‘s game. Aside from the rumors of their interest in him prior to the trade deadline, they just faced the Magic in San Antonio earlier this month. In that contest they got a front-row seat to just how dangerous Vucevic can be.
In the first matchup between Vucevic and the Spurs, the All-Star big man cooked San Antonio for 26 points on 12-18 shooting. He was in a groove and it didn’t matter how well Jakob Poeltl defended him, he was making his shots. And that was with almost half of the Magic offense sitting out due to a variety of injuries. Now he’s got another All-Star in Zach LaVine by his side.
When the Spurs most recently faced Vuc they knew that Orlando was going to go to him almost every time they were on the attack and they still couldn’t stop him. Now they have to contend with LaVine as well. Guarding these two in pick and roll sets has the potential to be a real nightmare.
Together, LaVine and Vucevic are two of the most dangerous shooters above the break volume shooters in the league. Both of them attempt more than six above the break three’s per game and both of them are hitting them at an above 40 percent rate.
The Bulls can come down and run high pick and roll every time and unless the Spurs play it perfectly, they’re likely going to end up with an open look for one of Vuc or LaVine from their favorite spot. It’s a heck of a duo to defend against and this is the first time any team in the league is going to get a chance.
Next: Spurs need someone to get hot from outside
Mar 25, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) shoots in the first half against the Los Angeles Clippers at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
One of the San Antonio Spurs shooters needs to step up from deep
One thing that these past two games have exposed is just how important Lonnie Walker is to the Spurs. He’s got the confidence and shot-making ability from deep to change games on the right night and that’s something that the Spurs have sorely missed.
Walker will miss his third straight game with a wrist injury. In his absence, the Spurs are going to need one of their other shooters to step up.
The most obvious candidates to fill that space are Rudy Gay and Patty Mills. Devin Vassell is the most accurate three-point shooter on the team right now but as he’s only received limited playing time this season I don’t think we can expect him to save the Spurs with his outside shooting tonight. Instead, as they so often have before, the Spurs will turn to their veterans.
Patty, in particular, could have a large role to play in tonight’s game. The Bulls don’t have any real lockdown defenders in their backcourt so there should be plenty of opportunities for Patty to get loose and fire from deep. This could be a game where he catches fire.
Next: More Luka minutes
Mar 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Luka Samanic (19) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in the third quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs should get Luka Samanic on the floor more often
This point serves two purposes. First, if you’re going to lose, you might as well lose while playing your young guys. But secondly, and more importantly, Luka Samanic really does have a positive impact on the team and can help them win tough games.
When Samanic checked into the Wednesday night matchup against the Clippers he immediately made an impact. It wasn’t just that he scored almost as soon as he took the floor. He also played with incredibly high energy on both ends, played solid defense, and was constantly engaged and always making what looked like the right play.
His play in that game was impressive enough for Gregg Popovich to say that he thought he was deserving of more playing time.
“He’s beginning to prove himself deserving of time. He’s played well. He has more confidence, he’s a good athelete with good size. Hopefully he’ll continue to improve.”
But that comment was frustratingly followed up with a game on Thursday where Luka saw the floor for just under three minutes.
Look, I know that one postgame comment from Pop shouldn’t lead us to believe that Samanic was all of a sudden going to get 20 some minutes a game but seeing him relegated to the bench in a game that the Spurs needed a spark in was mildly frustrating.
I see little downside in giving Luka a larger role in the rotation. He’s proven, both in the G-League and in the NBA, that he’s a much-improved player from last year and that he’s ready to take on the responsibility. Playing him more will only benefit the Spurs now and in the future.
The San Antonio Spurs might be able to take advantage of the lack of familiarity on this new-look Bulls team but this isn’t going to be an easy win. Let’s see if the Spurs are able to lock in and snap this losing slump when they face off with Chicago at 7:30 PM CST tonight.