In the Weekly Preview, we’ll take a look at the upcoming games for the San Antonio Spurs. This week, the Spurs play the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The San Antonio Spurs will be back in action as they conclude the Rodeo Road Trip with a pair of games against the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs went 1-1 last week, losing to the Denver Nuggets but beating the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back. The Spurs are four and a half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz
Friday, February 21, 8:00 PM CT
Last Meeting: Spurs 127, Jazz 120
The last time these teams faced off, the Spurs got the better of the Jazz in a 127-120 victory. Utah had a bad stretch where they lost five games in a row, but they have rebounded nicely with four straight wins and the Jazz are currently fourth in the Western Conference. Their schedule gets a little tougher with upcoming contests against the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics after facing the Spurs.
In what is shaping up to be one of the best moves of the season, the Jazz traded Dante Exum and some picks to the Cavs for Jordan Clarkson. Since the trade, Utah has had the best offensive rating in the NBA. While their defense has taken a bit of a hit (12th in defensive rating since the trade), there is no denying that their new Sixth Man of the Year candidate is a force to be reckoned with.
The Spurs have faced Clarkson twice this season. He was a huge part in the Cleveland Cavaliers overtime win versus San Antonio, going 10-for-18 from the floor on his way to 31 points. Clarkson has shot a tidy 53.1% from the floor and averaged 22.5 points per game against the Spurs this season. Dejounte Murray has picked up his play on both ends of the floor recently but he, along Derrick White, will need to clamp down on Clarkson if the Spurs want to improve to 2-0 against Utah on the season.
The Jazz are an impressive 20-5 at home. They have had the second best overall net rating since Clarkson’s arrival, just behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Very few teams have had success in Salt Lake City so the Spurs will need to dig deep as the Jazz will be looking to avenge their earlier loss to San Antonio.
San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder
Sunday, February 23, 6:00 PM CT
Last Meeting: Spurs 114, Thunder 106
After a fantastic performance in the All-Star game, Chris Paul and his Thunder teammates will look to right the ship after dropping two of their last three contests (including one against the Spurs). The Thunder are tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the West — but OKC owns the tiebreaker. The Spurs were able to salvage some momentum by beating the Thunder before the All-Star break in Oklahoma City. Expect the Thunder to fight even harder to keep their hold on the sixth seed out West.
While the Spurs will need to keep close tabs on Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on the flip side they can exploit Danilo Gallinari, who is slow-footed and struggles to keep players in front of him. He only shot 4-for-16 in his most recent matchup against the Spurs and San Antonio should look to attack him whenever possible.
In the last five minutes of close games, Gallinari shoots 42.3% from the floor — which isn’t terrible compared to his 44.2% field goal percentage on the season. However, once we get to three minutes left in a game that is within five points, his shooting plummets to 30.8%. While Gallinari is more than capable of hurting the Spurs with the ball in his hands, they will need to exploit him as often as they can on the other end. He is one of the few weak links in an otherwise solid defensive team.
The Spurs will need to go 2-0 this week if they want to start making up ground in the playoff race. The Rodeo Road Trip has had a disastrous start, but with the recent win over the Thunder, perhaps the Spurs can get some form of momentum out of it with a strong finish.
The Spurs have fallen apart often in fourth quarters of winnable games, which is something they need to avoid from here on out. With just 28 games left, San Antonio will need to play their best ball of the year. The time for the Spurs to show some fighting spirit to remain competitive starts now.