Random Thoughts: Spurs vs. Knicks – Game #69

The Spurs got their revenge. After an embarrassing loss to the Knicks during the Rodeo Road Trip that ended New York’s 18-game home losing streak, San Antonio prevailed Friday night by a final score of 109-83. The Spurs have now won seven straight games, the longest streak in the league, to improve their record to 40-29.

Thankfully, the good guys didn’t flirt with a second serving of embarrassment. They got up on the Knicks early and easily strolled to the victory.

Considering the Knicks were severely outmatched and this game was never really in doubt, I’ll forego grades for some thoughts of the random variety. 

-The 83 points allowed were a season-low for a Spurs opponent. I wouldn’t say San Antonio played great defense — I’d say the Spurs played well defensively and got a lot of help from New York’s inept attack. That said, the team’s defense is definitely on the upswing. After the disastrous Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs are allowing 102.6 points per 100 possessions during the seven-game winning streak. During that time frame, their defensive rating is good for second in the league. (For the record, they’re scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions during the win streak, sixth in the league.)

-On the season, the Spurs have the sixth best offensive rating (ahead of teams like the Raptors, Celtics and Sixers) and the 20th best defensive rating. Due to the roster composition, the best the Spurs can hope for is a top five offense and an average defense (and that’s only because of Pop’s history of being a stickler for defense [talent-wise, 20th is probably right around where they should be]). 

-The Kings lost again tonight so the Spurs are now up 6.5 games on the ninth seed. At this point, it’d take an epic collapse to not make the playoffs. Considering where San Antonio was at the end of the Rodeo Road Trip, it’s been a swift recovery.

-Speaking of the playoffs, the main goal should be avoiding the Warriors in the first round. With the Nuggets right on their heels and the fact that the Warriors will probably rest up down the stretch, it makes both the seventh and eighth seeds dangerous. For that reason, the Spurs should push as hard as possible for a top six seed. Playing the Nuggets in the first round would be a relatively good (great?) matchup but it’d be too risky to artificially try to make that happen.

-Against the Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge posted another strong game. Following his slow start to the season, one can make the argument that Aldridge has played the best basketball of his career since the final week of November. He’s been really, really good.

-I’ve been really impressed with DeMar DeRozan since the All-Star break. He’s now hit at least half his shots in each game since the break. In those ten games, he’s averaged 22.5 points, 6.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds on 55% shooting from the floor. 

-DeRozan has been more than just good numbers as of late. He’s actually defending pretty well; he’s been a lot better on the ball and even more impressive off the ball. The most promising aspect, though, is how he seems to have bought into the team concept. There were stretches this season where he was playing glorified one-on-one basketball. Over the last handful of games, DeRozan has fit snugly within the team concept. Not only is he feeding Aldridge early and often while consistently setting up three-point shooters, he’s sharing playmaking duties with Derrick White without an ounce of hesitation. Even in big moments, DeRozan has no qualms about sharing the spotlight with White — and that makes the Spurs a much better team. DeRozan as a lead dog doesn’t give any team a high ceiling. However, if DeRozan plays a complementary role while providing an efficient 22, six and six, that’s a valuable piece to a puzzle.

-Part of DeRozan’s improvement play has been his mental approach. It’s also undeniably, however, that he looks a lot better physically as well. It’s safe to say he was hurting more than he was letting on during his January doldrums. 

-It’s amazing how much better Jakob Poeltl plays when Pau Gasol isn’t around (thanks again, Coach Bud). Poeltl was painfully hesitant and scared of his own shadow when Gasol loomed on the bench. When Gasol was injured and since his departure, the Austrian bigman has been outstanding. 

-I continue to want Poeltl as a permanent member of the starting lineup. As I’ve stated all season, starting Poeltl is the only way to maximize his potential. It appears as if he’s rapidly learning how to play next to Aldridge and that’s a great sign for his future. Maxing out the 23-year-old Poeltl raises San Antonio’s short-term and long-term ceiling. 

-On paper, Poeltl and Aldridge appear to be too big to start together in today’s NBA. However, Poeltl is really mobile for a seven-footer so that allows him to survive mismatches well enough. And since the slow start, Aldridge has gotten a lot more mobile himself so he can do well enough against power forwards — even if they are small forwards masquerading at the four. (Was Aldridge out of shape to start the season? He’s moving so much better the last couple months.)

Rudy Gay off the bench is really beginning to work well. He gives the bench unit a pressure release valve when ball-movement alone can’t break down the opposing defense. Additionally, there aren’t many bench swingmen in the league who can handle Gay’s combination of size and skill.

LJ Ellis