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The Lakers might be collapsing, but let’s give credit to the Spurs

Joh
nson is already a reliable driver who continues to improve. Since March 1, his overall turnover rate has dropped to a pristine 7.0%, while his assist totals have gone up. The reads that the 22-year-old has made out of his attacks have been quite impressive.

It feels like the young core is rising collectively on the score sheet. Devin Vassell has knocked down 37.0% of his three-pointers since the All-Star break, showing off the pull-up savvy that made him a 2020 lottery pick. Zach Collins has returned from lengthy injury absences to back up Jakob Poeltl and help San Antonio post the second-highest offensive rebound rate in the NBA over the past seven games. 

Even 19-year-old Josh Primo, the youngest player in the NBA, has stepped in as a starter over the past eight games. He hasn’t been an efficient offensive contributor, but Primo is still playing 27.2 minutes per game for a Spurs team that is winning when it counts. That’s meaningful development.

Seven different Spurs have logged a 15-plus-point outing during the 6-1 run. Six others have scored between 10 and 15 points at least once. Regardless of the context or competition, it’s fun to see so many players impacting the point total.

On defense, San Antonio has arguably played even better, and it starts with Poeltl. The 26-year-old has already faced the most at-rim shots in the league this season and performed admirably. During the recent winning stretch, Poeltl has faced 7.7 shots at the rim per game. Opponents are shooting just 45.7% on those attempts — the lowest rate against any player facing at least 5 attempts per game in that span.

Overall, the Spurs have held their opponents to just 54.1% shooting at the rim over the past seven games, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the league’s lowest rate in that span. Teams have struggled to get out and run on San Antonio, and when stuck in a half-court game, the Spurs have allowed the fifth-fewest points per half-court possession.

In short: It’s been a fantastic run, and it’s placed all the pressure on the Lakers to change their fate.

L.A. is 4-16 since the All-Star break with the NBA’s second-worst defensive rating. The Lakers still have to face Phoenix and Denver, two top-10 offenses on the season, along with the Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers must win at least two games to even have a mathematical chance at the No. 10 seed, and even if they somehow won out, San Antonio would then only need to win two games (the Spurs hold the tiebreaker).

The Spurs have a difficult road ahead against four West playoff teams in the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Warriors and Dallas Mavericks. Does San Antonio’s recent hot stretch provide enough momentum to split the schedule? Do the Lakers have anything left in the tank to apply pressure?

Regardless of the outcome, Gregg Popovich and his staff should take pride in how the young Spurs have fought for their spot in the postseason.

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