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NBA Preview: Pelicans look to hand Spurs fourth loss in their last five games

San Antonio is favored by 1.5 points

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images

The Pelicans (8-20) kick off a two-game road trip against the San Antonio Spurs (9-16) on Sunday evening. New Orleans will try to post their second win in a row after Friday’s victory over the Detroit Pistons. The Spurs are entering the contest on a bit of a skid, losing three of their last four games.

Today’s matchup marks the first of four meetings between the division rivals. Despite the similar records, San Antonio still represents an interesting challenge. New Orleans probably has the best top end talents in this matchup, with center Jonas Valanciunas and forward Brandon Ingram; however, the Spurs are a deep team.

Denver Nuggets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for head coach Gregg Popovich to use a 12- or 13-man deep rotation. For example, in their most recent game against the Denver Nuggets, every active Spurs player on the roster logged at least 14 minutes. The performance of each team’s bench will be something to watch in this game — Pelicans’ reserves have to hold their own.

The Spurs are led by dynamic young point guard Dejounte Murray. He is putting together another solid season after missing most of the last campaign with a knee injury. Murray leads the Spurs in several statistical categories including points (18.4), assists (8.3), steals (1.9), and minutes (34.3).

The key to getting this road win for the Pelicans could come down to protecting the basketball. San Antonio is one of the best teams in the league at turning opponents over, currently sitting at 8th in steals with 8.3 steals per game. Murray is top five individually in swipes.

Another important thing to remember, the Spurs attempt the least three-point shots in the NBA so protecting the paint will be paramount for the Pels in this matchup. If New Orleans can shut down the lane without fouling, while keeping turnovers to a minimum, the Spurs offense could struggle.

From an injury perspective, both teams are coming in relatively healthy. New Orleans will be without young point guard Kira Lewis Jr., who suffered a torn ACL earlier this week, and Zion Williamson remains sidelined, with the team announcing yesterday that a setback has forced him to curtail the volume and intensity of workouts.

Sadly, I barely remember to include Williamson now when thinking about Pelican’s injuries — it’s really starting to feel like he might miss this entire season.

The Spurs will be near full strength, missing only forward Zach Collins who has not yet played this season.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (8-20) vs San Antonio Spurs (9-16)

When: December 12, 2021, 6:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @JamDunn06.