Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs head to Dallas needing more from the second unit if they want to stop their slide.

On a 2-10 slide, the San Antonio Spurs will once again be looking for answers to their woes tonight, this time against the rapidly rising Dallas Mavericks. In a complete flip from where the two teams stood during the first half of the season, the Mavs, led by Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, are in form and rising up the Western Conference standings, while the Spurs are struggling to stay within the playoff contention.

Despite showing improvement in their second straight game in Denver on Friday night, the Spurs once again fell short, missing three chances to tie the game at the buzzer and force overtime to extend their current losing streak to five. Several of their losses during the skid have been close, and just getting over the hump and learning what a win feels like again may be just what the doctor ordered. Whether or not they can achieve that feat in Dallas remains to be seen.

San Antonio Spurs (24-26) @ Dallas Mavericks (29-22)

April 11, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs injuries: Gorgui Dieng (shoulder — out), Trey Lyles (ankle — out), Kieta Bates-Diop (hamstring — questionable)

Mavericks injuries: Maxi Kleber (leg — day-to-day), Willie Cauley-Stein (COVID protocols — probable), JJ Redick (heel — doubtful)

The Spurs need more from the bench

One of the biggest consequences of the Spurs’ first half COVID hiatus and ensuing injury issues has been the level exhaustion it has put on this team. The significant increase in strength of schedule certainly hasn’t helped, but the Spurs’ inability to put away lesser teams has magnified the issue. Initially, it seemed like maybe the Spurs could weather the storm thanks to their depth, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

Earlier in the season, the Spurs had the best bench unit in the league, spearheaded by Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl. It was inevitably broken up by Poeltl deservedly becoming the starting center for the club, but that doesn’t fully explain the second unit’s rapid slide. Mills in particular has struggled mightily over the last 11 games, averaging just nine points per game on 35.7% shooting from three and just 37.6% overall.

But Patty isn’t the only one who has struggled. Gay has been the only thing close to a consistent scoring threat off the bench, and consistent is putting it somewhat kindly — not that he is to blame. While some have criticized him for going into iso-mode too much, he hasn’t been given much of a choice. Lonnie Walker’s absence with a wrist injury until the last game had robbed the bench of someone who can create his own shot, and Gorgui Dieng’s shoulder injury has taken away a chance to strengthen the second unit’s interior defense while also providing another outside shooting threat as a relief valve.

It would also be remiss not to mention that Gregg Popovich could arguably do more to help them. Vassell, who even if he’s struggling to score plays good defense on nearly every possession, only played three minutes on Friday. That was most likely due to Walker returning and playing 17 minutes, but maybe Pop needs to accept the idea that he needs to be playing a ten-man rotation with this daunting schedule. Even before Walker returned, it felt like he could have been giving at least some minutes to Luka Samanic to provide some relief for his tired players.

The schedule only gets more brutal from here, and if the Spurs hope to remain in the playoff hunt, they’re going to have to make the most of their depth, and that starts with Pop having to step out of his comfort zone every now and then and not be so dependent on his aging veterans. If the Spurs keep losing, he may no choice anyways as it will be time to start building up the young players for the future instead of leaning on veterans who may or may not be here next season.

Remembering a fun day

April 10, 2019 was a unique day for the Spurs. It was the regular season finale ahead of their last playoff appearance. While they had already clinched a spot for an NBA-tying record 22 straight years, it was an insane night for standings purposes, but ultimately the Spurs got the match-up they wanted against the Denver Nuggets (even if they lost in seven games).

However, there was something bigger going on that night. It was Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki’s final game before his retirement, and the Spurs sent him out in style. After an emotional pregame tribute, Dirk entered the game for the final time with a few minutes remaining to an arousing standing ovation. With the Spurs having already clinched the win, he hit one of his signature fadeaways over Drew Eubanks (whom Pop was desperately yelling at to back off on defense) before exiting to another ovation and thanking the fans after the game.

The Spurs/Mavs rivalry of may have been heated at times, but there was always a mutual respect between to two greatest power forwards of their times in Nowitzki and Tim Duncan. It seemed only fitting that if he must end his career on the road, it be in San Antonio. It was a fun night that I will never forget, and I smile whenever I go back and re-watch it.

For the Mavs fans’ perspective, please visit Mavs Moneyball.

As always, the PtR game thread will be posted exactly 30 minutes before broadcast time for all who wish to discuss the game in real-time on our site. We also encourage you to join along in the discussion with our great host of personalities on our Twitter, where we live tweet every single game, both regular season and playoffs.

Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks