A struggling San Antonio Spurs team watched their season-long lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder dissipate to a half-game margin to control the top seed in the Western Conference.
But the top seed, no matter how advantageous it may be to secure, has never been the aim of the Spurs or their head coach Gregg Popovich.
There is enough respect in all eight eventual playoff seeds, and enough confidence in their own abilities, that the Spurs know the journey will be tough regardless of where they begin it, and that they can win it if granted enough health.
So even as Popovich watched his team twice surrender crippling runs to a younger Thunder team, it wasn't the Spurs shoddy play that concerned him, but the gait of his star point guard as he brought the ball up the floor. The San Antonio Express-News reported
“I saw him come across half court actually limping at one time, so that’s when we pulled him,” Popovich said. “I said ‘Tony, you’ve got to stop, so we can figure out what it is.’ He just couldn’t go.”
Since returning from an ankle injury, Parker has at times eschewed his customary post game locker room style in favor of ice and bandages.
At this point in the season every player is seemingly a little banged up, with the hope being that treatment and adrenaline will keep those maladies from seeping into their game.
The Spurs are generally less divulging than their peers when it comes to injury reports, and true to form Parker refused to disclose any information other than his need to get healthy. So when Popovich expresses his concern, this close to the playoffs, it's enough to give everyone pause.
Popovich's best estimation of Parker's injury was something along the lines of shin splints, an inconvenient but overcome able injury; though Popovich would be first to admit he's not a doctor and the Spurs training staff will likely give Parker a more thorough evaluation.
If Parker is in any need of extended rest, the top seed is likely unattainable. With Ginobili already threatening to miss the opening of the playoffs, the Spurs are already facing an uphill climb.
The Spurs need more than recovery from Parker, they need time to allow for a return of conditioning lost in an extended absence, and a chance at regaining rhythm.
If Thursday night proved anything, it's that while the Thunder are a formidable opponent, they're not as daunting as the Spurs own health.