January was an odd month for the San Antonio Spurs. They started off with a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who have been have been strong as of late, and then dropped two of three about a week and a half later. They subsequently rattled off six straight wins before losing two in a row. While their record for the month was a solid 10-5, the five games they lost were concerning for some, especially due to the fact that several of these losses were the result of the Spurs blowing what seemed to be solid leads in the second half. Despite having the second best record in the league at 37-11, the Spurs are still working on becoming a more complete team, especially on the defensive end. February is here now though, and with it comes the Rodeo Road Trip, on which many Spurs squads have hit their stride heading towards the postseason
Week 1 ( vs 76ers, vs Nuggets): In what has been one of the more captivating story lines of the past month or so, the Philadelphia 76ers have suddenly shown strong signs of development. They won 10 games in January, which not only matched the Spurs win total for the month, but matched their win total for all of last season. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that Joel Embiid will be out for this game, meaning that Spurs fans will have to wait all of a week to see the shoo-in for rookie of the year going head-to-head with San Antonio’s front-court. Similarly to the 76ers, the Denver Nuggets are a team that are showing signs of growth as the season has progressed. They currently maintain one of the leagues top ten offense and also have a budding star big man in Nikola Jokic, who scored his career high 35 points against the Spurs in their last meeting. However, they also own one of the leagues lowest defense ratings. Jokic has missed the past few games and there is currently no word on whether or not he is expected to play in the game on Saturday yet.
Week 2 ( @ Grizzlies, @ 76ers, @ Pistons): And so begins the annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs first head to Tennessee to face off against the Memphis Grizzlies, who may just be the toughest team they face on the road trip. Marc Gasol is one of the league’s best centers and a two-way threat, Mike Conley is an all-star level player who unfortunately is oft overlook due to playing at what may be the deepest position in the league talent-wise, and their entire roster has bought into the “grit and grind” philosophy, resulting in a top 5 defensive rating. Next, the Spurs travel to Philadelphia to play the 76ers. Many faithful 76er fans stood by their team during the more uncertain years of the rebuild, and those same fans are giving this 76ers team a legitimate home court advantage. Seven of their ten wins over the past month have been at home and Embiid is more likely to play in this game. The Spurs will then face off against the Detroit Pistons in Michigan. After starting the season 14-13, the Pistons have since gone 7-14. They are still, however, in the playoff race in the East and will be looking to make a push as the postseason draws near. They have an incredibly young core (Aaron Baynes is the second oldest player on their roster) and are well coached. Despite their current struggles, it is not hard to imagine that they are two or three players and a season or two away from competing for home court advantage in a playoff series in the East.
Week 3 ( @ Knicks, @ Pacers, @ Magic): Like the Pistons, the New York Knicks are on a bit of a skid over the past month or so. They have gone 5-16 since December 22nd and are currently in the center of many trade rumors across the NBA as New York’s front office seems determined to move Carmelo Anthony. The Indiana Pacers went 9-4 in the month of January, including a win over the Houston Rockets. Paul George and Myles Turner, who is only 20 years old, combine for almost 40 points per game. Kawhi Leonard facing up against Paul George is an underrated match up in the NBA and should be a treat for Spurs and Pacer fans alike. In the last game before the All-Star break, the Spurs head to Florida to face off against the Orlando Magic. The Magic went 4-11 in January and are currently rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. They have some young talent in Aaron Gordon and Evan Fornier, though. The Spurs will be looking to close out the week strong before beginning the extended break.
Week 4 (@ Clippers, @ Lakers): Coming back from All-Star break, the Spurs head to California for their final two games of the Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs have gone 0-2 against the Los Angeles Clippers this season so far. It is possible, but unlikely that Chris Paul will be playing in this game, and both teams will likely be shaking off some post-break rust. The Clippers experience an over 20 point swing in net rating for the worse when Chris Paul is not on the court and have lost 4 of their last 5, meaning if Paul is not playing, the Spurs will be in fairly strong position to steal one in the Staple Center. In their last game of the month, the Spurs play the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers currently rank 30 in defensive rating and 21st in offensive rating, mostly attributed to a young, developing core. Despite all of this, Lou Williams, Nick Young, and DeAngelo Russell are all capable of producing high point totals, meaning that this game could provide the Spurs defense a good test at the end of the Rodeo Road Trip.
Predictions: Last month, I predicted the Spurs would go 11-4 throughout January with a 7-1 record at home and a 4-3 record on the road. I also predicted that the Spurs would at some point reach the top ranking in defensive rating and then hover in the top 4. The Spurs ended up going 10-5 in January, with a 6-2 record at home and a 4-3 record on the road. They did reach the top defensive rating early in January and are currently ranked third. My predictions for the month of February is that the Spurs will go 8-2, including a 2-0 record at home and a 6-2 record on the Rodeo Road Trip. This would bring their record to 45-13, just five wins shy of extending their streak of 50-win seasons at least one more year.
All stats obtained via basketball-reference.com