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The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the San Antonio Spurs?
Place: 12th in the West
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich endured more losing this season than any other since the franchise won the Tim Duncan lottery, and they were at serious risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The format in Orlando gave the Spurs new life, as they are one of four teams within the four-game window necessary to force a play-in series for the Western Conference’s final playoff seed, but the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to season-ending shoulder surgery is a serious blow to their chances.
Much was expected from promising young point guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White this season, but neither lived up to the considerable hype. The hiatus allowed that anticipation to build again, and the restart gives them both a second chance for a breakout season. The same could be said of second-year shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV. There remains an awful lot of potential in San Antonio, and Aldridge’s absence gives them greater opportunity to realize it. The question is whether eight games is enough.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder), Trey Lyles (appendicitis)
Aldridge is on the wrong side of his career apex, but he was still San Antonio’s most dependable scoring option in the post. He also stretched his shot out beyond the 3-point line to the halfcourt offense’s great benefit, but he slowed the pace of an otherwise young and athletic team. Lineups featuring Jakob Poeltl at center actually fared better on both ends by a total of 6.7 points per 100 possessions, and the bubble will likely give us an answer as to whether that is a statistical anomaly or food for future thought.
Lyles was an alternative to Rudy Gay as a stretch forward and offered the Spurs some depth at a shallow position. His absence will force San Antonio into more small ball and could mean minutes for rookie forward Luka Samanic, who only made his 12-minute NBA debut just before the season was suspended.
NBA Finals odds: +30000
Championship odds: +50000
DeMar DeRozan catches a lot of flak for failing to develop his own 3-point shot, and fingers often get pointed in his direction for the Spurs being in the red with him on the floor. That he replaced Kawhi Leonard does him no favors. Ignored is DeRozan’s exceptional scoring ability at every other level. His 22.2 points per game on better than 50 percent shooting are evidence enough. He has also improved as a playmaker since leading the Toronto Raptors to a franchise-record 59 wins in his final season there.
With Aldridge off the floor and DeRozan at the helm of the offense, the Spurs scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions, roughly the equivalent of the Dallas Mavericks’ league-leading outfit. It is the defense that falls apart. The Raptors managed a stout defense with DeRozan on the court and Poeltl at center just two years ago, and it is on Popovich to surround them with the weapons to leverage the elite offense. The Spurs have had success in limited minutes with DeRozan at the four, and the loss of depth at that position could force them into experimenting more with four long-armed guards in the lineup.
(All times Eastern)
July 31: Sacramento Kings, 8 p.m.
Aug. 2: Memphis Grizzlies, 4 p.m.
Aug. 3: Philadelphia 76ers, 8 p.m.
Aug. 5: Denver Nuggets, 4 p.m.
Aug. 7: Utah Jazz, 1 p.m.
Aug. 9: New Orleans Pelicans, 3 p.m. (ABC)
Aug. 11: Houston Rockets, 2 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 13: Utah Jazz, TBD
It is asking a lot for the Aldridge-less Spurs to eclipse the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings in the standings and win back-to-back games against the Memphis Grizzlies to secure their 23rd straight playoff appearance, but the 71-year-old Popovich arrived in the bubble to do just that. One more training camp for a young roster does not hurt its chances of surviving that gauntlet and meeting the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round for the first time since the days of Duncan and Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, we know DeRozan’s playoff track record against LeBron James all too well.
More likely the Spurs will fall short of a play-in series, as both Damian Lillard’s Blazers and Zion Williamson’s Pelicans are better suited for an eight-game sprint to meet the Grizzlies. That serves San Antonio better in the longterm anyway, since they will be locked into the 11th spot in the lottery with a 9.4 percent shot at jumping into a top-four spot for the first time since they drafted Duncan in 1997.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: 12th in the West
Finish: Failure to make the playoffs
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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