The San Antonio Spurs had a strange month. On one hand, they had a solid record of 11-4 for November and had some strong performances on the road against some quality opponents, such as the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, and Charlotte Hornets. On the other hand, the Spurs were the recipients of some difficult losses at home and habitually struggled to close out fourth quarters, letting opponents crawl back into games in the final minutes. The Spurs rank 7th in offensive rating, a higher mark than could be expected for a team with so many new pieces, but rank an incredibly average 14th in defensive rating, a far cry from their almost record setting defensive rating last season. The Spurs are certainly hoping to use December to right the ship a bit and find some consistency on both ends of the court. Fortunately for the Spurs, they are entering the month fairly healthy and are entering a month with fewer back-to-backs.
Week 1 ( vs Wizards): The first week of December is a light one for the Spurs, who play the Washington Wizards on Friday, but do not play again until the following Monday. This is the final game the Spurs will play against the Wizards this season, coming less than a week after the Spurs’ 112-100 victory in the nation’s capitol. Not much should be different in terms of lineups for this game, and due to the fact that the Spurs have two full days of rest after this game, expect the Spurs to roll out their full lineup for this game. Despite their 6-11 record, the Wizards have an incredibly strong backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal who are talented enough to steal the Wizards a win if the Spurs are continuing to struggle on offense.
Week 2 ( @ Bucks, @ Timberwolves, @ Bulls, vs Nets): The Spurs start the second week of December against the Milwaukee Bucks on the road. The Bucks are missing Khris Middleton to start the season, but have won 3 of their last 4 games, including a strong win against the reigning Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been producing at an all-star level to start the season and is one of the most versatile players in the league. The Spurs then travel to the Target Center to face the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves’ core is young and talented. Despite being 5-13, the already incredible Karl-Anthony Towns, rising star Andrew Wiggins, and two-time current dunk contest winner Zach LaVine make the Timberwolves stronger than their record suggests. If they can figure out their third quarter struggles, the Spurs will be in for a challenging night. The Spurs then play the Chicago Bulls in Chicago. Many analysts had concerns about the spacing for the Bulls with a perceived lack of three-point shooting. The Bulls however, who are top ten in both offensive and defensive rating, are finding ways to be successful despite being near last in the league in three-point makes per game. The Spurs will have to have a strong game defending from mid-range if they hope to slow the Bulls down. Expect a fun matchup between Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. The final game of the week is against the Brooklyn Nets back at the AT&T center. The Nets were pegged as one of the weaker teams in the league entering the season, and while they currently sit 14th in the Eastern Conference, they have managed to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot. At the time of writing this, they are only 3.5 games behind the current eight seed, due in large part to the Eastern Conference being weaker this season. That margin will probably grow as the season progresses, though, as the Nets are currently rank in the bottom 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Nets recently ended a seven game losing streak with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite there being extended rest after this game, expect to see increased minutes for the Spurs’ reserves during this matchup.
Week 3 ( vs Celtics, @ Suns, vs Pelicans): Last Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics was close throughout much of the game, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if it’s another close game when the two teams meet up in the middle of December. The Celtics are incredibly well coached, have an incredibly prolific scorer in Isaiah Thomas, upgraded at center with Al Horford, and have many other players who complement their playstyle perfectly. After starting the season 3-3, the Celtics have won 7 of their last 10 games. Next, the Spurs head to Arizona, facing off against the Phoenix Suns. Second-year player Devin Booker has taken over as the Suns’ leading scorer at 19.5 points per game, but he is shooting a relatively modest 33.7% from three-point territory so far this season. This game is the second night of a back-to-back and with the game against the Celtics being at home, as opposed to on the road like this one, expect to see the Spurs rest several players for this game. The final game of the week will be against the New Orleans Pelicans at home. The Pelicans have gone 5-2 in their last seven games. While the Pelicans’ offensive rating is ranked in the bottom third of the league, their defensive rating has been above league average. On top of that, Anthony Davis is having a great year to this point. He is the current league leader in scoring at 32.1 points-per-game, as well as leading the league in blocks. This game may prove to be a tougher matchup for the Spurs than the game in late October.
Week 4 (@ Rockets, @ Clippers, @ Trail Blazers, vs Bulls): The Spurs are starting off Christmas week by playing the Houston Rockets for the third time this season. James Harden is currently leading the league in assists and the Rockets have gone 8-4 in their last 12 games. While their defense is well below league average, they have a stellar offensive rating of 113.3 Points Per 100 Possessions, good enough for fourth in the league. The Spurs will hope to have some of their worries on the defensive end resolved before coming into this week as they are playing several very strong, offensive teams. After playing the fourth best offense in the league, the Spurs will travel to California to play the Los Angeles Clippers, who currently rank 5th in offense. The Clippers will present problems for the Spurs on the other side of the court as well, as their defensive rating is the second best in the league. While the Clippers have faltered a bit as of late, losing three in a row to end November, they are still one of the most formidable teams in the league and have inserted themselves into title-contention talks with their strong start to the season. Continuing along to another top-ten rated offense, the Spurs’ next opponent is the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard will certainly cause problems for the Spurs, as he is scoring 28.2 points-per-game and the Spurs have had struggles in recent years guarding high volume scorers at the point guard position. The Trail Blazers’ defense ranks last in the league, however, meaning that the Spurs’ mid-range game will probably look even more potent throughout this game. On Christmas, the Spurs host the Bulls. By this point in the month, there is a good chance that the Spurs’ defense will have returned to form a good bit, and since the Bulls don’t shoot many threes, this game should be a stronger defensive performance by the Spurs. However, with Rajon Rondo at the point, the Bulls may attack the Spurs’ weaker defensive options through pick-and-rolls.
Week 5 ( vs Suns, vs Trail Blazers): To start the final week of the month, the Spurs host the Suns. This game, however, is not on a part of a back-to-back like the last matchup with the Suns will have been. Therefore, a full lineup and regular rotations are likely. These are the games that the starting lineup would do well to get a big lead early in to allow some of the younger players some good playing time. The final game of the month is another home game against the Blazers. As stated above, the Spurs have the weapons on offense to capitalize on the Blazers’ defense. However, Lillard and C.J. McCollum are always candidates to have huge games.
Predictions: Before giving the record prediction for the month of December, here is a more specific prediction: by the end of December, the trend of the Spurs playing better on the road than at home will be non-existent. The four losses at home have less to do with where they occurred than they do with who they occurred against. The Clippers, Jazz, and Orlando Magic are all top 10 defensive teams and the Rockets are a team that could very well end up with homecourt advantage to start the playoffs. While the Spurs play a couple of playoff level teams at home throughout December, for the most part, the home schedule through December is a good deal lighter. As for overall record throughout the month of December, I’d expect the Spurs to go 11-3. For the most part, the schedule through December is not too difficult, but the Spurs are playing some high-powered offenses on the road. As for home and away record, I’d predict the Spurs to go about 6-1 at home, and 5-2 away. This would bring their record overall to 26-7 at the end of the month, with a 10-5 record at home, and a 16-2 record away.