Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Can the Spurs continue the “two steps forward, two steps back” routine and still make the playoffs?
The playoffs are seven weeks away and the San Antonio Spurs are still “two stepping” their way through games – showing promise yet lacking consistency, gaining leads and losing them, making huge comebacks to only fall short. One thing that has become the focus, of at least the contributors here at Pounding the Rock, is how well the youngsters are doing. It was recently highlighted that Dejounte Murray and Derrick White hold a unique stat in the league – the only two players who are averaging 10 points, three assists, and 3 rebounds.
Week 19: The Interstate 35 rivalry with the Dallas Mavericks usually leads to some exciting games and Wednesday’s game was no different. With LaMarcus Aldridge out with a sore shoulder, the Spurs had to up their game versus Kristaps Porzingis. He started the game on fire, but the future of the Spurs defense made its presence known, clamping down on the Mavs in the second quarter. But it wasn’t enough. The Spurs had another chance to make their push for the playoffs on Saturday versus the Orlando Magic. And it seemed like a different game. After a poor game against the Thunder and Mavs, Dejounte Murray made his presence felt again by scoring 15 points (with 70% FG) and getting 3 steals, 1 block, and 7 assists. And even though LMA didn’t play and Jakob Poeltl got hurt in the first 4 minutes, the Spurs bigman played well – Drew Eubanks got a career high 10 points and even made a 3 (and was promptly told never to do it again). The trio of Eubanks, Trey Lyles and Rudy Gay teamed up with the usual suspects to bring this nailbiter home. This win saw the Spurs jump the Portland Trail Blazers into 11th, but still 3 games out of 8th seed.
Last week: 1-1 (25-33) — 109-103 vs. Mavericks (loss); 114-113 vs. Magic
Tim MacMahon, ESPN – 18 (Last Week: 17)
Spurs guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are the only two players in the league averaging at least 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in fewer than 25 minutes per game. A pair who seemingly have the potential to be San Antonio’s backcourt of the future — Murray is 23, White 25 — have barely played together this season. They’ve logged only 94 minutes as a duo, but that is trending upward. White and Murray were plus-10 in 45 minutes on the floor together in February.
Michael Shapiro, SI.com – 20 (Last Week: 18)
Can the Spurs possibly hang onto their 22-year playoff streak? They have the fifth-easiest schedule remaining, though that’s unfortunately their best case with 24 games left. San Antonio ranked No. 23 in net rating in February. Not only are the Spurs No. 26 in threes made per game, they’re No. 25 in threes allowed per game. The first metric is a guarantee with a Gregg Popovich team. The latter is far more concerning as San Antonio looks to somehow keep its playoff streak alive.
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports – 17 (Last Week: 17)
The Spurs lost to the Mavericks and beat the Magic in a light week, with LaMarcus Aldridge missing both games due to a shoulder issue. Trey Lyles stepped up in his absence, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds in the two games. San Antonio is two games out in the loss column of the final West playoff spot.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com – 18 (Last Week: 19)
The Spurs aren’t very good defensively, so they can’t afford to struggle on the other end of the floor. But in their second and third games after the All-Star break, they scored less than a point per possession for the eighth and ninth times this season. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 9-for-27 in his first two games after the break and then missed the last two with right shoulder soreness.
DeMar DeRozan had a relatively quiet night (16 points on 6-for-13 shooting) against Orlando on Saturday, but he had nine assists. Six other Spurs (including somebody named Drew Eubanks) scored in double-figures, and they shot 7-for-12 over the last 5:01 to pull out a one-point win over the Magic. They’re still just 13-22 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with only the Warriors having seen a bigger drop in clutch winning percentage from last season (when the Spurs were 24-16).
Aldridge could return on Monday, but Jakob Poeltl is out with an MCL sprain in his right knee. Poeltl has been one of the league’s best rim protectors (opponents have shot just 51.3% at the rim when he’s been there) and ranks fourth in the league with 16.4 screen assists per 36 minutes. The San Antonio offense has been at its best (112.4 points scored per 100 possessions) with him on the floor.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report – 21 (Last Week: 21)
Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have shared just 94 minutes in San Antonio’s backcourt this season, and they want more. According to NBA.com’s lineup data, which doesn’t exclude garbage time, they deserve it; the Spurs have a plus-4.1 net rating with both guards on the floor. Cleaning the Glass filters out meaningless minutes in blowouts, and it, conversely, has the White-Murray tandem at a minus-7.0.
San Antonio is 3-7 in its last 10 games, but is still within semi-realistic striking distance of a postseason spot.
The Spurs have never been much for punting on the present, but there’s at least some evidence that a pairing geared toward long-term development could also help in their pursuit of the West’s No. 8 seed right now. It’s probably worth tossing White and Murray out there more often—regardless of which lineup data source you trust more.
What will the next seven weeks be about for you, Pounders? Do you think the analysts have it right? Or are they focusing on the wrong things? Let us know in the comments.
Power Rankings – Week 19: Splitting Another Week
Power Rankings – Week 19: Splitting Another Week