Spurs hunt for defense facing new-look Grizzlies
The annual Rodeo Road Trip is typically a time of bonding and winning for the San Antonio Spurs.
So far, winning has yet to be a part of the equation on this season's journey.
San Antonio will look to avoid its fifth straight setback to start the eight-game excursion when it visits the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.
The Spurs have allowed an average of 130 points while dropping a season-worst four straight games. It is the team's worst start in the 17-year history of the Rodeo Road Trip, a period in which the home arena isn't available due to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo taking over the building.
"We've just got to stay with it," All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge told reporters. "Keep driving. There's no magical cure, no savior. We just have to stay together, get better defensively."
Defense has been a huge problem for the Spurs.
Saturday's 125-105 loss to the Utah Jazz represents the fewest points they have given up during the trip.
Overall, the Spurs are a middle-of-the-pack defensive unit allowing an average of 111.4 points per game. They have given up more than 100 in each of the past 16 games.
"We've got to stay in front of guys," shooting guard DeMar DeRozan told reporters of the defensive issues.
"It's our job as guards to stay in front of our man and not let that penetration get in and cause stress on our defense and let them get easy shots, easy layups, and put them on the free-throw line. That's been a killer."
DeRozan has been thriving on the offensive end. He scored 23 points against Utah and is averaging 27.3 points on 34-of-62 shooting over the past three games.
Memphis has won three of its past four games and is clicking after a series of trades at the trading deadline.
The biggest move saw franchise stalwart Marc Gasol traded to Toronto, and that transaction is aiding little-used veteran Joakim Noah.
Noah recorded season highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday's 99-90 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
"Ton of credit to Joakim," Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters of Noah. "He had a flashback to a few years ago. He was all over the place, and I think he led the charge with his energy."
Noah is averaging 5.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in 14 minutes per game; both of his double-doubles this season have occurred this month.
Bickerstaff felt a positive energy permeating the club against New Orleans. Recent weeks have been filled with speculation of whether or not Gasol and point guard Mike Conley -- the latter was retained -- would be traded by last Thursday's deadline.
It felt to Bickerstaff as if a cloud of uncertainty had evaporated.
"I think with the changes that we made and the amount of bodies that came in and moved out, this is a new team," Bickerstaff told reporters. "Stylistically, I think it will look different on both sides of the ball. We're looking at it as a blank slate with this group and an opportunity to build something positive."
Shooting guard Avery Bradley is one of the newcomers. The veteran acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers had eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 24 minutes against New Orleans in his team debut.
Spurs small forward Rudy Gay (ankle) hopes to return after a one-game absence.
The teams split two meetings in San Antonio earlier this season.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 11, 2019