San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets
Time: 6 PM (CT), ESPN
Spread: SAS -5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Charlotte Hornets have been a pleasant surprise of 2016, but the Hornets have dropped two straight and will look to get back on track as it hosts the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night on ESPN. The Hornets are 5-point underdogs on their homecourt where they currently boast a 4-3 record. The Spurs, meanwhile, are a perfect 7-0 on the road this season.
Charlotte dropped its most recent games to the surging New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies. Neither game was a strong defensive effort from Charlotte, as they gave up 121 to the Pelicans and 105 to a slow-paced Memphis team. Mike Conley most certainly got the best of Kemba Walker, outscoring him 31-17 while shooting 11 of 21 from the field and 5 of 8 from downtown. Walker had an off-night of sorts, connecting on just 6 of 15 and missing six of his seven triples. Walker, though, for the most part has taken his game to the next level this season. The former UConn guard is averaging 24.7 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game while posting a PER Of 26.64.
Perplexingly, the Hornets seem to fare better when Walker is playing less aggressive offensively. He averages 23.6 points per game in the eight Hornets wins, but in losses he is good for 26.4 points per game, but two less assists per contest. He has also shot the ball 1.5 percent better from the floor in the losses, though through just 13 games this all may be something of an anomaly and result of a small sample size. It is tough to say necessarily, but is a facilitating Kemba the best Kemba for Charlotte? The evidence supports it, at least so far.
Even as that stands, the key to the Hornets may be further unlocking of Walker, but through the facilitation of Nicolas Batum. Batum is second on the team in assists at 5.0 per game, and last year he led the team in assisted buckets to Walker. When Walker is able to float off the ball and be fed by a sharp-passing Batum, the Hornets seem to be at their best. Of course, getting more from Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller would be a boon, too. Both average 11 points per game, and yet both could easily up that into the 13-15 point per game range. Yet with the Hornets scoring 104.7 per game, it seems difficult to have too many quips with the performance of any given Hornet thus far.
The Spurs have won six-straight games and are 11-3 on the season (as mentioned a perfect 7-0 on the road, as well).
San Antonio appears to have lost little from the retirement of to-be Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, and the Spurs are continuing to click with some new parts in place. Pau Gasol effectively became Duncan’s replacement, while offensively LaMarcus Aldridge carries much of the weight that was formerly hauled by Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Parker and Ginobiili are still in the contingent as effective rotation players, but their days of being stars appear to be firmly behind them. To be sure, those flashes still surface, and Parker still can take over games, but this is a team whose reigns have been handed off to Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is making his case for an MVP award, even if statistics only half-support that cause.
Leonard is averaging 24.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists while coming up with 2.29 steals per game. His two-way effort places him among the league’s elite players, even if his 24 points per game do not seem that overwhelming. The Spurs still get 18 from Aldridge and 12 from Gasol, and average 102.5 points per game. If any weaknesses exist, it is that the backcourt of Parker and Patty Mills at the 1-spot is weak defensively, but San Antonio can effectively counter that by putting Leonard or even Jonathon Simmons on a hot shooting opponents’ 1.
Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon both see just 19 and 13 minutes per game, respectively, but their defensive prowess is a perfect fit for the culture of the Spurs and Gregg Popovich’s coaching. Throwing in veterans like David Lee and Danny Green just flushes out an effective 12 or 13 man staff Pop can count on to play effective NBA basketball. It has worked for over two decades, and Duncan or not, it is continuing to work.