When the 76ers play their second seeding game Monday, they will face a San Antonio Spurs team that is playing without one of its top players, will be outmanned and undersized, but won’t lack grit or motivation.
The Sixers faced a team with similar issues in the NBA restart opener, although one with more experience, during Saturday’s 127-121 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers played without injured All-Star Domantas Sabonis (left foot plantar fasciitis) and guards Jeremy Lamb (torn left anterior cruciate ligament) and Malcolm Brogdon (neck injury).
Similarly, San Antonio is without seven-time All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out for the season after undergoing right shoulder surgery. Forward Trey Lyles (appendicitis) is also out of Monday’s contest. Former Sixer Marco Belinelli missed Sunday’s 108-106 win over Memphis with a sprained left foot, and guard Bryn Forbes was sidelined with right quadriceps tightness.
The Spurs are fighting for their playoff lives as they try to extend the longest current playoff streak among NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL teams at 22 seasons. They have gotten off to a roaring start during competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla.
They opened with Friday’s 129-120 win over Sacramento and followed with Sunday’s victory over Memphis when DeMar DeRozan hit two free throws with one second left to snap a 106-106 tie.
Monday’s 8 p.m. game against the Sixers will be San Antonio’s third in four days.
“We don’t have a lot of time to think about this and have to do what it takes to get our body and mind right, and Philly is going to be a grind,” Spurs guard Derrick White said in a Zoom interview after Sunday’s win. “So we have to get back to the task and do what we have to do to get ready to go.”
Like the Pacers, the Spurs, with a smaller lineup, will have to shoot more threes against the Sixers, although that is a big part of their makeup.
Indiana shot 14-for-34 from beyond the arc against the Sixers. The Spurs are averaging franchise bests of 10.7 three-pointers made and 28.7 attempts per game.
“This is the way of the league. If you don’t shoot threes, you lose,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has guided San Antonio to its 22 consecutive playoff berths and five NBA titles.
The Spurs shot 12-for-29 (41%) from three-point range in the win over Memphis.
While there are established veterans such as DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills, this is generally a young team. In fact, San Antonio has its youngest roster since Popovich became coach in 1996, with an average age of 26.3.
Lonnie Walker IV, who led Reading to the PIAA Class 6A state championship in 2017, is among those young players. Walker, 21, has started both games in Florida. White, 26, who had seven assists and zero turnovers against Memphis, has been among the leaders, as has guard Dejounte Murray, 23.
These are certainly not household names, but Sixers coach Brett Brown knows the Spurs well from his time as an assistant before being hired in Philadelphia in 2013.
Brown will see a team playing with desperation. San Antonio is just two games behind Memphis for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. If the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth spot after the seeding games, there will be a play-in series. The eighth seed would have to win one game, while the ninth seed would have to win two.
The remaining Spurs schedule is brutal. After the Sixers, the Spurs will face Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Houston, and Denver again.