Jan 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s what to watch for when the San Antonio Spurs face the Wizards
Well, we’re well and into it now. The San Antonio Spurs are facing down the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. Every team they face from here on out is headed for the playoffs, save for two.
The Washington Wizards might not be a playoff team, they’re not even a .500 team, but that doesn’t make tonight’s game an easy out. They struggled earlier in the season but they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the NBA recently. They’ve won eight straight – their longest winning streak in 20 years – and ten of their last eleven games, this is not going to be an easy win for San Antonio.
Still, this is the kind of game that the Spurs absolutely must win if they want to make it to the play-in tournament. They’re just a few games ahead of the Warriors and Pelicans and it would only take a brief losing streak to flip that on its head. And with the opponents the Spurs have on deck over the next three weeks, that’s very possible.
With some of the toughest competition in the Eastern Conference coming up after Washington, the Spurs could really use a tally in the right column. Here’s what to watch for when they take the court tonight.
Can Derrick White stay hot for the San Antonio Spurs?
One of the hottest players over the last ten games for the San Antonio Spurs has been Derrick White. Over that span, he’s averaged 18.5 points per game on 42 percent shooting from behind the arc and will have a great chance to keep that going in tonight’s game.
The recipe for the Wizards this season has been quite similar to the one they followed last year. When they are winning games, it’s with their offense. Their defense, on the other hand, has been their Achilles heel.
Their offense hasn’t been wildly effective, they’ve got the sixth-lowest offensive rating in the league, but they play at such a high pace that they’re still able to score the ninth most points per game. But scoring will only get you so far when you give up third-most points per game on an average night.
All of this sets up Derrick White to have a relatively smooth path to continuing the hot shooting streak he’s been on. The Wizards don’t have many defenders who can stay with him for a full 48 minutes. Bradley Beal or Russell Westbrook might be able to but they’ve got such a heavy load to carry on offense that locking up White on the other end might take too much out of them.
In any case, the stage is set for White to have another impressive outing. The Spurs are going to need him to come through if they want to escape the nation’s capital with a W.
Next: Who is slowing down Russell Westbrook?
Apr 25, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) dribbles the ball past Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman (16) in the second quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Can anyone on the San Antonio Spurs slow down Russell Westbrook?
Being on the Washington Wizards has taken away some of the recognition that Russell Westbrook has gotten in years past. Outside of a small spat with Stephen A. Smith, it seems like Westbrook is rarely talked about when we’re discussing the best point guards in the league this season. But lately, he’s been on an absolute tear.
What’s Westbrook been doing? Oh you know, same old Russ. Just ripping off triple-doubles like they’re not a big deal. He’s got 11 in the month of April alone and has recorded a triple-double in 17 of his last 22 games. I know we’ve all gotten accustomed to seeing Russ put up these insane numbers but that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating just how incredible this is.
Still, the Spurs can’t get distracted by the impressive numbers that Westbrook is putting up, they’ve got to focus on stopping him from going for triple-double number 29. And if they can’t do that, they can at least make it an ineffective one.
The recipe for slowing down Russ is the same as it’s always been. The Spurs will need to sag off of him, try to lure him into shooting jumpers, and stay glued to the Wizards’ three-point shooters in order to prevent the wide-open looks that so often come at the end of a Westbrook drive and kick.
It’s not a perfect plan but does such a thing exist when you’re trying to contain one of the most explosive players in NBA history? The Spurs are going to have to live with the possibility of Russ dropping another triple-double on them. So long as he doesn’t get his teammates hot from deep that should be a price worth paying for San Antonio.
Next: Jakob Poeltl's defense is going to be crucial
Apr 24, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) fights New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (left) and center Steven Adams (12) for a rebound during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs are going to need Jakob Poeltl to bring his best
This kind of plays into slowing down Westbrook but the San Antonio Spurs can take some level of comfort in knowing that when Russ does get into the lane, they’ll have one of the best rim protectors in the league waiting for him.
Jakob Poeltl has been instrumental to the Spurs’ success all season long but he’s taken his defense to new heights over their past five games. Across that span, he ranks second in the league in blocks per game with an impressive 3.8 rejections per contest.
The Spurs will need him to keep bringing that energy if they want to win against Washington. The Wizards currently rank sixth in the league in nightly points in the paint (50.6 per game) but only 28th in the league in three-pointers attempted per night. If the Spurs can control the paint, they can control the game.
It helps that the Wizards don’t have many intimidating post scorers for Poeltl to have to devote himself to. This should open up more opportunities for him to help challenge Westbrook at the rim or dissuade him from attacking entirely. And if the Spurs perimeter defenders can do a good job of staying glued to Bradley Beal, the squad should be in good shape to come out of this victorious.
This is the kind of game that the San Antonio Spurs absolutely cannot afford to let slip through their hands if they want to go to the play-in tournament. Let’s hope they can take care of business when they take the floor tonight.