Frontcourt thin on personnel as Gay, Gasol continue to mend
Altered lineup may be same used Wednesday
The Spurs frontcourt remains thin after the team announced Friday starting forward Rudy Gay and backup center Pau Gasol will be out against the Rockets on Saturday night.
It will be the third consecutive game Gay has missed with a sore right heel and Gasol’s second in a row with a sore left foot.
Gay is the Spurs’ third-leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 28.0 minutes. Gasol is averaging 6.8 points 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 17.4 minutes.
“Their presence has been huge for us on both ends of the floor,” Spurs backup guard Patty Mills said. “Pau’s ability to protect the rim and rebound, and then his ability to be a quarterback offensively (is important). And so is Rudy’s presence on the offensive end to sometimes make things happen when things aren’t going great.
“But obviously it’s a big picture, and we would rather have them get healthy now so we can have them for the rest of the season.”
Gay has expressed a desire to return to action, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is taking a conservative approach after the 32year-old missed 25 games last season with bursitis in his right heel.
“I’m going to give him the rest that he needs, and hopefully we’ll have him,” Popovich said. “We’ve got enough young guys and new guys. I can’t have him in and out of the lineup every third game or something like that. Hopefully, the rest will make him be able to go for a longer stretch.”
With Gay sidelined, Popovich could go with the same lineup he used in Wednesday’s 95-88 loss at Miami, meaning Davis Bertans would start at small forward.
To add depth to their ailing frontcourt, the Spurs recalled rookie forward Chimezie Metu from their G League team in Austin on Friday.
The Spurs also will be without Lonnie Walker IV against Houston. The rookie guard has yet to play this season after tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee in the preseason.
Fast start needed: If there’s a silver lining to the Spurs’ twogame losing streak, it’s that they never gave up after falling into deep holes in both games.
In the 117-110 loss to Orlando on Sunday, the Spurs trailed by 26 points with 9 minutes left only to cut the deficit to five with 1:41 left.
Three days later, they rallied from 19 points down with 10 minutes to go to pull within five with under a minute remaining.
“It shows a fight (in us), but we can’t keep relying on that,” guard straight, including a 95-88 defeat at the hands of the Heat on Wednesday in Miami that led coach Gregg Popovich to call his team soft and undisciplined.
“(Time to) man up,” DeRozan said.
The Rockets (4-6) want to do the same after falling to the shorthanded Thunder 98-80 Thursday in Oklahoma City. Houston’s point total was its lowest in a regular-season game during coach Mike D’Antoni’s two-plus seasons with the club.
The embarrassing loss to an Oklahoma City team playing without the injured Russell Westbrook also marked the third time the Rockets have failed this season to score at least 90 points, matching the combined total of D’Antoni’s first two seasons.
It’s a frustrating turn of events DeMar DeRozan said. “We need to come out and start games the way we are fighting at the end of games, so we don’t put ourselves in that situation, because it is tough to dig out of it. Let’s come out with that type of energy and play that way from the beginning.”
Mills said the Spurs started both games “a bit slow and disorganized.”
“They are great teams with great scorers and athletes and they made us pay,” he said of the Magic and the Heat. “From then on, it’s almost playing catch-up basketball. Although we can cut a deficit, it’s not enough. Like DeMar said, it’s about playing 48 minutes and playing as smart and as hard as we can from the start.”
Optimistic outlook: Despite their two-game skid, DeRozan
for a team that last season came within a win of advancing to the NBA Finals after leading the league in offensive rating, averaging 114.0 points per 100 possessions. As of Friday, Houston ranked 26th at 103.9.
“It’s tough,” Harden said after scoring 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting against the Thunder. “Anybody, any player in this league, if you’ve got open shots and they’re not falling, it’s going to mess with you a little bit.”
Coming off an MVP season in which he averaged a league-best 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds, Harden has already missed three games because of a hamstring injury and is averaging 26.6 points, 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds.
DeRozan, meanwhile, is averaging 26.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists in a bid to become just the 10th player in NBA history to average 26/6/6 over a season. Harden did it in 2016-17, when he averaged 29.1 points, a league-best 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds.
“Every single year, he’s gotten better,” Harden said of DeRozan. “The way he thinks the game now is great to see, great to watch.” believes there’s plenty of reason for the Spurs to be optimistic after they completed their first 10 games with a 6-4 record.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of obstacles,” he said. “Guys have been hurt. The starting lineup changed a few times. Everybody learning. Guys coming back. Kind of a little bit of everything has been a big challenge. So to come out on top (with a winning record)…gives us a lot of confidence. We know we are going to be a lot better than this offensively and defensively as the season progresses, especially once we get more and more healthy.”
The Spurs also were 6-4 at this point last season. They finished 47-35.
Three and a half months ago, it was DeRozan who was struggling. Knowing how much his friend hurt after being forced to leave a city he had grown to love, Harden tried to console him by painting the move to San Antonio as a career-enhancing opportunity, one in which Popovich would put him in position to be more successful than ever.
“I’m just happy that he’s happy,” Harden said. “He’s in a really good place right now. I think Pop helps with that, somebody that understands a player of his caliber and will give him the freedom to go out there and do what he wants.”
Harden said it’s also clear DeRozan has found San Antonio to his liking.
“He’s more a low-key guy, so this is a perfect situation for him,” Harden said.
While growing up in inner-city Los Angeles was far from a perfect situation for DeRozan and Harden, they had plenty of good times as they traveled around their hometown in search of pick-up games.
“I hooped everywhere in L.A. — parks, inside, in the ’hood, nice gyms. I mean everywhere,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle last year. “I was a hooper. Wherever Spurs:
“We really can’t believe how far we have come and where we are in this league.”
Spurs small forward Rudy Gay will miss his third straight game with a sore right heel, while backup center Pau Gasol will sit for a second consecutive game with a sore left foot.