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Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs game preview

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This is a pretty big game in the grand scheme of the NBA.

The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, and along with the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Charlotte Hornets (for now, at least) have formed a quintet of teams chasing those best NBA Lottery odds.

As you know (because I’ve mentioned it a million times over the past few seasons), the three teams with the worst records in the NBA each get an equal 14% chance of landing the top overall pick in the draft. This season, we know that means Victor Wembanyama, who continues to do silly things to other European players who dare to defend him. You also know that while there isn’t extra incentive to be the worst team if your goal is the top pick, but being the worst team in the NBA guarantees that you won’t draft worse than the fifth spot. That’s always a big deal because in most seasons (and the jury’s still out on this season), there’s usually five or so top guys. Then there’s usually a handful of “He could be really good if he’s in the right system and they give him time”s and a couple of “He’s been hurt/didn’t play much in college so we don’t know if he’ll be good but he has the skills” guys.

It seems pretty clear at this point that barring injuries, the Rockets will not own the worst record in the league this season. The young players have come together and while there are still going to be plenty of ugly nights and clunkers from Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr., Houston appears to be on the upward path. It’s going to be a slow rise, but it’s started. And anyone that isn’t seeing it is blind or willfully ignorant.

The San Antonio Spurs have no qualms about being the worst team in the league. They’ve dropped 11 straight and don’t play another bad team after tonight until December 23 in Orlando. It’s the NBA so weird things happen all the time, but the Spurs don’t seem to be a threat to win any game anytime soon. During this losing streak, they have lost only four by single digits: Lakers twice (in one game they never led and in the other they gave up 143 points), Portland (they were up 6 with seven minutes left before the Blazers closed on a 17-4 run). and Oklahoma City (they led by 17 at halftime and by 8 after three quarters and lost by 8).

I guess my question is, “Why is Gregg Popovich sticking around for this?” He’s 73 years old and missed San Antonio’s last two games after undergoing a minor medical procedure. The team cut Josh Primo early in the season due to indecent exposure allegations, and without him the Spurs’ best players (by PER) are Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell, and Charles Bassey. Raise your hand if you know where Charles Bassey went to college without looking it up. Now put your hand down, liar.

Why stay? Let’s say the Spurs win the lottery this year and get Wembanyama. And heck, let’s say they win the lottery again next year and take whoever the top dude is in 2024. They’re not a playoff team for another year after that at least. And they’re definitely trying to trade Poeltl and Josh Richardson (and anyone else, really) by the trade deadline. No more than two of these players will still be on the Spurs when they next make the playoffs.

So is Popovich planning on a playoff resurgence at the age of 76? Or is he holding on because he can’t let go?

Tip-off is at 7:30pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest