Dec 27, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs are back in action again tonight. This time they’re facing the New Orleans Pelicans, another play-in contending team, in what should be an exciting contest for fans rooting for either squad.
After a really tough stretch from late March to early April, the Spurs have gotten back on the right track as of late. Winners of three of their last four, San Antonio is hoping to carry this momentum into the Smoothie King Center.
The Spurs could be without DeMar DeRozan once again tonight. They’ve struggled when he’s missed time but managed to beat the Detroit Pistons on Thursday without him. But with all due respect to the Pistons, that’s a game the Spurs should’ve won anyway. Putting away the Pelicans sans DeMar would be a much bigger challenge.
But even if DeMar does miss another game the Spurs can take comfort in the knowledge that they’ll have Dejounte Murray back in the starting lineup. Murray has been stroking it from behind the arc over his last couple of games, if he can bring that kind of long-range accuracy tonight it’ll go a long way towards helping San Antonio continue on their road trip with a little extra pep in their step.
Here are two more things you should be watching for when the Spurs take the floor tonight.
How do the San Antonio Spurs plan to slow down Zion Williamson?
This seems to come up every time we face the Pelicans but it’s well deserved. It’s the question that’s going to face the Spurs every time they face New Orleans for the foreseeable future – how the heck are they going to slow down Zion Williamson?
After a remarkably impressive rookie showing, Zion has continued to defy expectations this season. He’s averaging 26.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game while shooting an absurd 62 percent from the floor. He’s one of the most difficult covers in the NBA today and no one seems to have an answer for him.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/03/29/0022000714/24/dbcd1244-d6b1-7642-5be5-35c0e2412410_1280x720.mp4
Jakob Poeltl has shown an impressive ability to stay with guards out on the perimeter and still protect the rim but there’s a huge difference between defending Buddy Hield and Zion. Jakob has been able to be fairly aggressive in his willingness to get out of the paint to help out on the edge but that might have to change this game.
Sitting back and protecting the rim could force Williamson into jumpers but it could also give him more space to draw additional defenders in and then kick the ball out to a shooter such as Lonzo Ball.
There’s no perfect strategy to defending Zion. No matter what the Spurs do he’s still going to get his. But slowing him down is still going to be the biggest factor in deciding if the Spurs can get a win tonight or not.
Next: Can Lonnie Walker stay hot?
Mar 20, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) during the third quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Can Lonnie Walker stay hot for the San Antonio Spurs?
The return of Dejounte Murray and the potential return of DeMar DeRozan could send Lonnie Walker back to the bench for tonight’s contest. If that’s the case, the Spurs are going to need him to bring the same scoring punch he did on Thursday.
Against Detroit, Walker showed no hesitation early on. He was hunting for buckets and it was truly something to see. He’s been pulling up from deeper and deeper behind the arc and looks very comfortable knocking down three’s from Hill Country.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/04/22/0022000895/41/1b8b2bd8-20c4-50f2-d17e-bd5e23cf6626_1280x720.mp4
He’s shooting the ball with such confidence right now. And with Rudy Gay set to miss tonight’s game, the Spurs are going to need that kind of scoring punch off the bench.
The San Antonio Spurs bench cratered without Walker around to help. But in the nine games since he’s been back they’ve ranked 18th in the league in nightly plus/minus. It’s not a great mark but it’s a heck of a lot better than where they were. That’s the Lonnie impact.
These are the two things we will be keeping our eyes on when the San Antonio Spurs face the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.