Lost in the controversy surrounding San Antonio waiving former first-round pick Joshua Primo is the fact that the Spurs are off to a good start, and their wins haven’t come against tanking teams.
San Antonio is 5-4 with impressive victories at Indiana, Philadelphia and Minnesota, but the Spurs will be tested with a road game against the relatively rested Denver Nuggets on Sunday morning.
The contest will be the first of a home-and-home set between the teams, as a rematch is set for Monday in San Antonio.
The Spurs are at a disadvantage after losing to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 113-106 on Friday night and flying to Denver after the game. The Nuggets haven’t played since earning a 122-110 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.
San Antonio released Primo on October 28 after he was accused of indecent exposure by a former Spurs clinical psychologist, who has since filed a civil suit against the organization.
Then in the Spurs’ Sunday win over the Timberwolves, rookie guard Blake Wesley tore his left medial collateral ligament, and he is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Losing two ballhandlers within a week is tough for any team, especially for one as young as San Antonio. The Spurs started the season with the league’s third-youngest roster.
Wesley was going to get seasoning in the G-League before Primo was released, leading to him being called into action. Now the rest of the young roster will try to continue the surprising start for veteran coach Gregg Popovich.
In some ways, youth might be helping the team to a better-than-expected start.
“They’re young enough; they don’t know any better,” Popovich said recently.
San Antonio did get some pieces back on Friday. Devin Vassell had a career-high 29 points in his return from a four-game absence caused by a knee injury, and Keldon Johnson had 16 points while coming back after missing one game because of a calf ailment.
“I was itching to get back out there just to help my team,” Vassell said.
Now the Spurs will oppose a Nuggets team that is looking to build on the win at Oklahoma City. Denver led by 19 in the first half, then fell behind late in the third quarter before recovering to get the win.
A big reason for the victory was Jamal Murray, who looked to be back in his 2020-21 form. Murray, who missed all of last season due to a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, has been on a minutes restriction to start the season and was inactive for the front end of a back-to-back in the first week.
Murray scored 16 of his season-high 24 points in the second half Thursday night, including a reverse jam that sparked a 29-15 fourth-quarter advantage for the Nuggets.
He also hit a step-back 3-pointer in the rally.
“I blacked out,” he said. “I kind of get like that.”
While Murray has been trying to find his groove, Nikola Jokic has been keeping the team afloat. He had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists on Thursday, giving him 79 triple-doubles for his career and passing Wilt Chamberlain for the most all-time by an NBA centre.
Jokic’s teammates gave him a signed ball after the game to commemorate the accomplishment.
“It’s nice,” Jokic said. “It’s not just my success. I cannot do it without my teammates. I just wanted to remember one day, when I find that ball in a closet, just to see who I played with.”