The Pick: Spurs 101-96
Basic train of thought: this is a lot of points to cover for a team that doesn’t score a ton (the Spurs rank in the middle of the pack with 99 points a night) and tends to rest its star players on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Spurs have quietly (I’m not sure how they manage to do it “quietly” every single season) won nine straight and 11 of 12, not to mention their last six victories coming by an average of 17.3 points. San Antonio is clicking on all cylinders while the Cavaliers are trying to figure out what they have. Kyrie Irving has rediscovered his scoring stroke after a brutal first few weeks of the season (he’s tallied a game high point total in four straight), but Cleveland is getting virtually nothing from what they thought would be a talented duo for years to come in Tyler Zeller (2.1 ppg in seven minutes) and Anthony Bennett (shooting 13.5 percent from the field and has heard D-League whispers). That being said, this Cavs team is young (nine players are 23 years of age or younger) and has turned in two gutty performances recently on the second night of back-to-backs (two overtime wins in the last two weeks).
As a team, Cleveland ranks above average in most defensive metrics, a style of play that could keep this game close should the Spurs watch the minutes of their key players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker combined to play 95 minutes). Listen, I’m not saying the Cavs are on anywhere near the level of team that the Spurs are, but with young talent and no reason to hold back, why can’t they keep this close? Mike Conley was able to score in an efficient manner against a full Spurs squad last night (28 points on 63.2 percent shooting from the field), providing me with confidence that Irving can be productive tonight. Should Duncan be limited in minutes tonight or sit out all together (he has only played in both games of a back-to-back once this season), why can’t Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao hurt the Spurs on the glass (Cleveland averages 2.5 more offensive rebounds per game)? The Spurs struggle to get easy points (they rank dead last in attempted free throws and rank in the bottom half of the league in FT%) and I refuse to bet against a confident Uncle Drew.
Fun Fact: Kyrie Irving has felt the need to carry his team when playing on zero days rest. For the season, he is averaging 50.3 percent more field goal attempts on the second night of a back-to-back than he is for all other games, shooting 45 percent from the field/46 percent from three/83 percent from the free throw line. His 31.7 points per game in such situations rank him as the second highest scorer when playing the night before (minimum two games).