The Spurs are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997 after a stretch in which they have lost their last three games, and nine of their last 11.
Their latest defeat was a 93-109 reverse at the hands of the Rockets, in which no Spurs player scored more than 14 points. The loss sent San Antonio’s record to 37-30, which leaves them in a three-way tie for eighth in the west with the Nuggets and the Jazz.
They will be hopeful of returning to the winners’ list on Tuesday though, when they host a Magic team which has lost four in a row. Orlando went down 105-113 to the Clippers on Saturday, scoring just 16 points in the final quarter. The Magic now sit in a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference standings. Their record of 20-47 is the third worst in the NBA.
Three keys to the game
Home court advantage - For all of the Spurs’ woes in recent weeks, they are still a very tough side to beat at home, having split their 31 games in San Antonio 23-8 this season. In contrast, the Magic, not a great side to begin with, are woeful on the road. From 36 away games this season they have won just seven, and have lost seven in a row.
Can the Spurs recapture their defensive identity? - San Antonio have for a long time been renowned for high-quality defense, and this season has been no exception. They allow just 102.6 points per 100 possessions for the season, better than all other teams except for Utah and Boston. On their current 3-11 run, however, their defensive rating has dropped to 108.1, 17th in the league during this time.
Limiting points in the paint - The Magic are the worst team in the NBA in this statistical category. They allow 49.3 points in the paint per game, 0.6 points more than the next worst team and a huge 1.5 points worse than the next. The Spurs don’t exactly excel on the inside though, scoring 43.4 points in this way per game, 20th in the league.
Matchup to watch
Pau Gasol vs Nikola Vucevic - Gasol is a long way from the player he once was, and this year he averages just 24.9 minutes, 10.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He does, however, occasionally show glimpses of his former self - he scored 19 points, grabbed ten rebounds, and dished out eight assists against the Lakers a little over a week ago, and a few games before that contributed 15 points, 15 rebounds and six assists against the Jazz. Vucevic is far from the player Gasol was at his best, but at this point in their careers he is the better player. For the season, the Montenegrin is averaging 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 blocks.
San Antonio Spurs predicted starting lineup
PG - Patty Mills | SG - Dejounte Murray | SF - Rudy Gay | PF - Kyle Anderson | C - Pau Gasol
Orlando Magic predicted starting lineup
PG - DJ Augustin | SG - Jonathan Simmons | SF - Mario Hezonja | PF - Jonathan Isaac | C - Nikola Vucevic
Aldridge will be comfortably the best player on the floor in this game, and his career statistics against Orlando are relatively solid. In 21 games against them, he averages 20.0 points on 52.8% shooting, grabs 7.0 rebounds, dishes out 1.7 assists, and also contributes 1.2 blocks. When the two sides met earlier in the season, he was San Antonio’s best player in a big loss, shooting 9-for-14 from the floor on the way to 24 points, and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The Magic have been given a 9.5-point head start by oddsmakers, and though they benefit more from losing this game than winning it, they will be competitive enough to cover this line. The Spurs are not playing good basketball at the moment, which will be enough to keep the final result in single figures.
The Spurs will be able to keep themselves in touch with the playoff positions with a victory in this game. Aldridge should be able to dominate against the inexperienced and defensively suspect Magic, and he will lead San Antonio to a relatively comfortable victory.
The Magic have some reasonable enough players who will enable them to stay in the contest for much of the game, but they won’t have the talent to get over the line. San Antonio will win this one 108-100.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSSW and FS Florida. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.