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The San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans have both been affected by injuries early in the season, but the Spurs have adapted better, winning three games in a row as the two team prepare to square off for the first time this season on Saturday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The Spurs (5-2) are without three of the guards they expected to have on their roster this season -- including point guard Dejounte Murrray, who is out for the season. But thanks to its veteran presence and the continued excellence of forward LaMarcus Aldridge and newly acquired shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio has barely missed a beat.
DeRozan and Aldridge scored 25 and 24 points, respectively, on 20-of-25 combined shooting in just three quarters of play as the Spurs rolled to an easy 120-90 win at Phoenix on Wednesday. DeRozan, who came to San Antonio from Toronto in the Kawhi Leonard trade, has led the Spurs in scoring in six of their seven games.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said there's still plenty of work to be done as his team hits November, which begins back-to-back home games against New Orleans on Saturday and Orlando on Sunday.
"All teams need a lot of improvement at this point of the year," Popovich said. "There may be three or four that don't, but the rest of us have to."
Still, winning five of their first seven games is a feather in the Spurs' collective cap.
"Considering the injuries and that we have so many guys still learning offensively and defensively (it's impressive), but we have to understand that we have a lot more improvement to make," DeRozan told the San Antonio Express-News.
The Pelicans head to the Alamo City for their third game in four nights and for the fourth game of a five-contest road trip. New Orleans fell in Portland 132-119 on Thursday to lose its fourth straight game after starting 4-0.
Star forward Anthony Davis sat out Thursday's loss with a right elbow sprain the night after scoring 17 points and taking 12 rebounds in a loss at Golden State. Davis leads New Orleans with 25.2 points and 13.0 rebounds per game and was replaced in the starting lineup against the Blazers by Jahlil Okafor.
New Orleans forward Julius Randle scored 29 points in Thursday's setback, in which the Pelicans (4-4) were outscored 30-20 in the final quarter.
"The first three quarters of the game we gave ourselves a chance, then we didn't score as well and we didn't get the stops when we needed them," Randle said.
The difference in Thursday's game was the Pelicans inability to hit their 3-pointers or defend Portland's shots from beyond the arc. New Orleans had eight 3-pointers compared to Portland's 18.
"The point differential is 30 points from the 3-point line," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "We dominate in the paint, we shoot more free throws, but it's really, really difficult to make up a 30-point deficit from three. So we've got to get them off the line and make a few more of our own."
New Orleans beat the Spurs in three of the teams' four matchups last season. San Antonio owns a 43-17 all-time edge against the Pelicans, including winning 25 of the 30 games played between the two teams in the Alamo City.
Updated November 2, 2018