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The Spurs are now 4-6 in their last 10 and 4-9 on the road this season. After putting up some strong team performances early in the season, the hierarchy of the Western Conference is starting to reveal itself and the Spurs do not reside near the top.
The Jazz went up big in the first quarter and there was no looking back for the home team. On the San Antonio Spurs there are two weapons, G-F Demar Derozan and F LaMarcus Aldridge. The third portion of their attacking talent is Rudy Gay who in that game against the Jazz was 0-3 in nineteen minutes. If the Spurs want to win they need Gay to be productive so posting a goose egg with no contributions in other areas of the court is, to put it lightly, unacceptable for the Spurs.
On the plus side, despite being a -21 for the game, C Jakob Poeltl showed some real effort and efficiency in the game. Posting 20 points and 7 rebounds on 9-11 shooting is certainly more than expected, but a step in the correct direction for the Spurs as they saw his potential coming over from Toronto.
Showtime is back and all it took was the addition of a slow, grit-n-grind center! Words you thought you’d never hear in the 2018 NBA. However Tyson Chandler’s addition to the team has sparked the motivation and overall talent of the team to new heights. The lakers are 7-3 in their last 10 and are a mere two games back of Golden State in the Western Conference standings.
Sure, in their last ten matches the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t faced the cream of the NBA crop. Portland and Indiana were the only two teams you could consider to be hands-down better than the Lakers; a win against Portland took 44 points from LeBron James and Indiana was lacking their superstar wing Victor Oladipo.
Despite the competition the Lakers can find success in consistency. Chandler is leading the young second unit and holding them accountable while James leads from the front as he always has. This game against the Spurs will be the first of a home and home so it’s important to get off on the right foot. The Spurs are coming off a blowout by the Jazz and they surely wanted to tighten the screws on their ship.
Simply put the Spurs don’t attempt that many threes in a game. At 24.4 attempts per game, the San Antonio Spurs rank second to last in the league in three-pointers attempted only ahead of the meager Cleveland Cavaliers. On the plus side, of those 24.4 attempts per game the San Antonio Spurs are converting on 39% for a league best rating from the arc.
In an odd way it starts and ends with Demar Derozan. With the injury to Dejounte Murray and the loss of Tony Parker, Derozan finds himself as the primary playmaker in the majority of Spurs plays as evidenced by his usage rate being 10th in the NBA. Derozan is averaging a career high in assists but is also a tremendous scorer, so for the perennial all-star it’s fair to say distributing is secondary to his game.
The Spurs have always been able to manufacture good looks for open shooters due to Popovich’s diligent implementation of off-ball screens across the perimeter and through the paint to open up scoring chances. However with a starting lineup of White-Derozan-Gay-Bertans-Aldridge, you can’t see too many of those players coming off curls for open threes. The three of Derozan, Gay, and Aldridge are certainly not three-point shooters by trade so teams have been able to collapse on the inside to stop the Spurs from initiating their strong slashing wings and post-up play.
During a Q&A during an event at Staples Centre Kobe Bryant said that the LA Lakers couldn’t depend on James to do everything and run him into the ground like they did in Cleveland. Bryant was quoted:
”That’s not the recipe for winning championships by no means, but it is a recipe to keep your head above water, to give yourself a little breathing room, and now it’s going back to teaching how to play the way that we want to play.”
While you may turn your head at Bryant, seeing as this was a style of play the Lakers relied on from Bryant when O’Neal left the squad, he is absolutely right. The Lakers are riding a high but they’ve not defeated stellar competition. LeBron James is still paying 34+ minutes a game and has had to “turn on the switch” for the Lakers to come home with a win.
So far the idea of LeBron James being overworked is a non-issue. He is actually playing the least minutes-per-game of his career and has had decent help from his supporting cast as F Brandon Ingram, F Kyle Kuzma, and most surprisingly C Javale McGee have done an excellent job to support him and the bench. For now it may be a non-issue, but there are miles on James’ 34 year old body and if the Lakers want a deep playoff run they may need to rely on other pieces in support of James himself.
The Lakers are on a good streak but it’s not smooth sailing from here. After a home and home with the Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers will be facing off with three teams with over .500 records in their next four games all away from home. With the Grizzlies just a game behind them, the Lakers need to take advantage of the Spurs to give them some cushion in the West.
The San Antonio Spurs are playing some joyless basketball. Demar Derozan brought up that they need to have more fun in games to succeed. While dryly funny, Popovich’s teams have never been known to be fun. Regardless if a little joy can help the Spurs from the field that’d be great. Sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference the Spurs need to find their rhythm so as not to end up in the lottery.
Can the Spurs Big Three start playing with some range?
Will LeBron get a night off?
Can Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram spell James?
What is the Spurs’ solution at point guard?
The oddsmakers have the Los Angeles Lakers favoured over the San Antonio Spurs by 7.5 with an over/under of 110.
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Christian Jope is a writer, social media strategist, and data analyst. A Queen’s University Alumni, Christian is an author and social media strategist with Raptors Cage, while also working closely with MLSE and Canada Basketball through community-driven events.
Email: [email protected]More info on Christian Jope
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