San Antonio Spurs need to take care of their defense

When the San Antonio Spurs hit a rough patch towards the middle of last season, and stumbled into the All-Star break with a 35-24 record, it was their worst performance since 1996-97 when they finished 20-62.

The interesting part is that the Spurs were 16-8 after 24 games last season, before collapsing to the 19-16 run between December 5 and February 14 that dropped them to 35-24.

The Spurs are setting records for lows that may be more comparative to the 1996-97 side.

In the past 10 seasons San Antonio compiled a record of 16-8, 19-5, 17-7, 21-3, and 18-6 after 24 games, with the 14-10 in the 2009-10 season their lowest total. They were 15-9 twice: once in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season when they were actually 12-9, before they followed that with 11 straight wins and ended the season with a healthy 50-16. Then in 2008-09 they opened the season with three straight losses, but still finished with a 54-28 total.

The current 11-13 record is something unfamiliar to current San Antonio fans, among many things not seen since way before the Spurs started amassing titles in 1999. The 136-105 loss to the Houston Rockets was the second-largest home defeat in franchise history, and it dropped the Spurs to two games below .500 for the first time since 2009. But that’s just a part of the story.

San Antonio are currently sitting at the bottom of the Southwest Division for the first time ever. The lowest the team has dropped since the division was created in 2004 was third, and it has happened only twice: in 2015 and 2018. Before now, the last time San Antonio propped up a division was in that infamous 1997 season when they finished sixth in the seven-team Midwest Division. The Vancouver Grizzlies finished below them in seventh place.

The Spurs are reeling, and the issues are tied to their defensive frailties. San Antonio lost their defensive anchor last season when Kawhi Leonard sat out most of the season injured, but they still chugged along as Dejounte Murray stepped up and was named on the All-Defensive Team. There was also Kyle Anderson and Danny Green, whose defense kept the team afloat even if their defensive rating relative to other league teams dropped from 5.3 to 3.8.

Leonard and Green are now with Toronto, Anderson has left for Utah via free agency and Dejounte Murray is out for the season with a torn cruciate-ligament injury, leaving the San Antonio defense in tatters. The results are showing it. The last three games San Antonio lost have been blowouts: by 34, 31 and 39 points. The Spurs have allowed 100 points or more in all but five of the 24 games they have played so far, and have allowed 120 points or more in eight games.

The Spurs are now arguably one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Their current minus-4 rating puts them in the negative for the first time, and is their worst since the minus-5.6 rating in the 1996-97 season. And the 113.7 points they are currently allowing opponents per 100 possessions is their worst in franchise history; their current low was the 112.8 of the 1987-88 season.

The Spurs are 22nd of the 30 NBA teams in rebounds, 26th in blocked shots, and 16th in assists. But, despite the struggles, the Spurs lead the league in turnovers with the least at 12.5 spills per game, and are also the least likely to commit a foul with an average of 18.5 personal fouls each night. That is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Gregg Popovich insists the team is not yet on the same page defensively. LaMarcus Aldridge agrees, insisting that they are still figuring things out. ESPN staff writer Michael C Wright opines that the defensive lapses are more mental than anything else. Whatever it is the Spurs need to figure it out, or their 21-year run of successive winning records and postseason basketball will be over.

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