Previewing Spurs' January Schedule

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket against Mason Plumlee #24 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the game on December 30, 2016 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

After a strong month of December, the San Antonio Spurs are faced with an interesting month of January. The month provides a good mix of strong playoff teams (with 4 games against teams with records of .600 or better) and games against teams still trying to determine exactly what their identity is (with 8 games against teams with records of .400 or worse). The Spurs erased concerns of a home-court disadvantage, having won eight in a row in San Antonio, which is beneficial as they have several multi game home-stands before heading into the Rodeo Road Trip and All-Star Break in February.

Week 1 ( @ Hawks, vs Raptors, @ Nuggets, vs Hornets): As of this writing, the Spurs are already halfway through this week, starting the month 1-1. While a loss to the Atlanta Hawks is certainly not how the Spurs wanted to start 2017, the victory against the Toronto Raptors is one of the Spurs’ most impressive wins of the season, putting the then-league-leading offense on complete lock down. The Spurs now have to head to Colorado and play the Denver Nuggets Thursday, who despite their 14-21 record are a young, developing team who are in position to make a push for the 8th seed in the coming months. They gave the Golden State Warriors a relatively close game in Oracle Arena on Monday. The Charlotte Hornets are currently a member of the hodgepodge that is the 4th to 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. The placement of the teams within that range seems to be ever fluid, but the Hornets are leading the pack right now. Kemba Walker  is currently having an all-star season and former Spur Marco Belinelli is currently shooting a staggering 45.3% from 3-point land. They hold the league’s 6th best defensive rating at the time of writing and commit the fewest turnovers per possession in the league. This game will be a battle of execution, which the Spurs have lacked in the first half of several recent games.

Week 2 ( vs Bucks, vs Lakers, @ Suns): The Milwaukee Bucks are another team in the middle tier of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the league’s fastest rising stars, Jabari Parker is beginning to develop into a great player in his own right, and the Bucks’ leading scorer from last season, Khris Middleton, hasn’t played one game this season. The Bucks are a rising force in the East. The last time the Spurs played the Los Angeles Lakers, they won by 9 points. After that game the Lakers were 7-6, but they’re 13-25 now. They own the second-to-last ranked defensive rating in the league. Nick Young has been incredibly accurate from deep, shooting 44.9% from three point range. The Lakers do have enough young, raw talent to make games interesting, though. After the Lakers, the Spurs travel to Arizona to face off against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have their own rising star in Devin Booker. While Booker is a good building block, the Suns will continue to look for pieces to play around Booker, as Booker’s efficiency seems to be dropping as his usage rate rises.

Week 3 ( vs Timberwolves, vs Nuggets, @ Cavaliers): While the Minnesota Timberwolves are still only 11-24, something has seemed different about the squad since beating the Chicago Bulls on December 13th. Including that game, their record from then until now has been 5-6 with a margin of victory of +2.09 points per game. While these aren’t championship level numbers, they are encouraging for a young squad that’s still growing. With as much talent as they have on their roster, they could be contending in a few seasons, and they will be looking to take steps in that direction this year. This game against the Nuggets should be similar to the one earlier in the month, with the only exception being that if Kenneth Faried does miss Thursday’s game against the Spurs, he should be back on the court for this game, barring another injury . The final game of the week will have the Spurs matching up against the reigning NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite having 7 players on their injured list at the time of writing, the Cavs have started this season off in seemingly more dominant fashion than they have the past two seasons. Kevin Love seems to be fitting in with the system more comfortably than before, which unlocks new dimensions to their offense. With their Christmas day win over the Warriors, the Cavaliers showed why they should be with the Warriors in anyone’s current contender talk.

Week 4 (@ Nets, @ Raptors, @ Pelicans): After playing the best team in the East, the Spurs will travel to New York to play the team that currently has the worst record in the East – the Brooklyn Nets. Currently ranked 27th in both offensive and defensive rating, the Nets have gone 5-20 over their past 25 games after a relatively hot start. Brook Lopez is playing fairly well, but the Nets may consider moving him to create more flexibility for their future (or have any draft picks in the near future). The Spurs will then travel to Canada and face off against the Raptors. The Raptors’ first loss of more than 10 points was to the Spurs on Tuesday, so it’s hard to imagine this game looking incredibly similar than their first meeting did. While the Spurs’ defense’s greatest strength is guarding guards and that is where a majority of the Raptors offense comes from, Lowry is a much better player than what he showed Tuesday night, averaging 44.4% on three point attempts and 22.2 points per game. The New Orleans Pelicans are another team in the race for the 8th seed in the West, only two games back from a playoff spot at the time of this writing. Anthony Davis creates match-up problems for the Spurs, making most of the games the two teams have played since he has been drafted hard fought contests.

Week 5 ( vs Mavericks, vs Thunder): The Dallas Mavericks seem to be headed to the lottery for only the second time since 2001. Dirk Nowitzki has only played 10 games this season and has seemed especially susceptible to injury. While Harrison Barnes has been scoring over 20 points per game, former Warrior teammate Andrew Bogut has not been able to get his offensive footing yet, scoring only 3.3 points per game. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a legitimate MVP candidate in Russell Westbrook and will give end-of-year award voters a tough decision come April and May in regards to how much team record should factor into the MVP award. Westbrook matches up fairly well against the Spurs, meaning the Spurs will need to bring their defensive A-game from all areas of the court and execute well to nab a win against the Thunder.

Predictions: Last month, I predicted that the Spurs would lose one game at home and two on the road. The Spurs did lose two on the road; however,  they were able to win all their games at home, which is a prediction I’ll happily be wrong about. Before making my record predictions, I’ll make a secondary prediction for the month of January as well: the Spurs will have the best defensive rating at some point during the month of January, but the top four or so defensive teams will be fighting for the top spot for the rest of the season. As for the record, including the two games they already played, I predict the Spurs will go 7-1 at home and 4-3 on the road. That will give them a 11-4 record in January and bring their total record to 37-11.

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