Regardless of what happens Tuesday when the San Antonio Spurs wrap up a five-game road trip in Oklahoma City, the trip will be viewed as a success.
The Spurs won the first three games of the stretch, the first two in Los Angeles over the Lakers and Clippers, before winning Saturday at Minnesota. Sunday’s 96-88 loss, also at Minnesota, came as San Antonio scored its fewest points since the 2019 playoffs.
That loss has not diminished the travel experience for the Spurs.
“I think we’re making progress,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “I think everyone is all in. Everyone’s competing. I think you can see it from game to game how the team is getting better.”
The Spurs were without DeMar DeRozan in Sunday’s loss and are expected to be without him again Tuesday. DeRozan is caring for his sick father in Los Angeles, according to a report.
Even without DeRozan, their leader in scoring and assists, the Spurs still had more than twice as many assists as turnovers Sunday, continuing a theme of the season. San Antonio not only leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, but if that ratio holds, it will set an NBA record at 2.36.
But the pace with which the Spurs played caught up to them late in Sunday’s game. They will have to adjust without DeRozan once again.
“When you run out of legs and run out of gas, you tend to get sped up easy and we just couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm, especially in crucial moments,” guard Patty Mills said. “The learning point I guess is, when you run out of juice, just be able to slow down a lot more.”
While San Antonio is trying to finish the road trip 4-1, the Thunder just did that, as they return to Oklahoma City to play for the first time in January. Oklahoma City won four of five against Eastern Conference teams.
But home hasn’t exactly been kind to the Thunder so far this season as Oklahoma City is 0-3 in its own building.
In a rebuilding season after trading off the bulk of last year’s roster in the offseason with an eye toward the future and stockpiling draft picks, the Thunder have been getting the job done of late.
“We have a team that’s really well-intentioned,” first-year Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “We’re not going to be perfect all the time but we’re certainly well-intentioned. (It’s) a testament of how they play the game.”
While the Thunder have also relied on Al Horford and George Hill, their primary veteran presences, the continued development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a big reason for recent success.
During the team’s current three-game winning streak, Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting better than 57.4 percent from the floor, 50 percent from behind the 3-point line and has averaged 7.7 assists. The three games have been his most productive of the season.
“It’s something that I bring to the table,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of the energy he’s given the Thunder. “Every given night, I gotta be the most competitive person on the floor and that’s a goal of mine.”
The progress Gilgeous-Alexander made in the abbreviated three-month offseason was more than Daigneault could have imagined.
“He’s a real worker,” Daigneault said. “I thought he did a great job with his body in the offseason as short as it was. He really was focused when he was home.”
–Field Level Media