With the NBA regular season in the rearview, the San Antonio Spurs are locked into the 10th seed in the Western Conference and will travel to play the New Orleans Pelicans in a single-elimination showdown with the ninth-seeded Pelicans on Wednesday night.
It will be the fifth meeting between the two teams in 2021-22, with San Antonio taking three of the four contests in the regular season. The Spurs won both games in New Orleans, including a pivotal seeding matchup on March 26. But their one loss in the regular season series was also their worst point differential loss of the entire season, as they fell 124-91 to the Pelicans at home.
Ironically, it was that loss to New Orleans that effectively jumpstarted the Spurs' greatly improved end-of-season play. They won seven out of their final 11 contests, including seven wins in an eight-game stretch to clinch their play-in berth. The Spurs are playing their best basketball at the right time. Here's what they'll need to come away with a win on Wednesday night.
1. A Locked-In Dejounte Murray
The Spurs will need their All-Star point guard to be at his best when they face the Pelicans. As good as Tre Jones was in Dejounte Murray's absence (41 AST, five turnovers in five games), they can't win a do-or-die game like this without their best player performing at a high level on both ends of the floor.
The good news is that Murray was able to return to the starting lineup against Dallas on Sunday and shake off some of the rust after missing a handful of games with an illness. Getting a tune-up game before Wednesday should make things a tad easier for him.
While the Spurs went 3-1 against New Orleans in the regular season, Murray played significantly below his standards in three of those games, shooting under 40% and turning the ball over more than he's used to. He'll have some extra motivation to show out against a team that seemed to have his number on multiple occasions this year.
As has been the case throughout the year, the Spurs have a much higher chance of winning when Dejounte Murray plays well. Him being able to get to his spots offensively, create good looks for his teammates, and defend at a high level will all be huge keys to a Spurs victory.