The San Antonio Spurs will begin their slate of their final 13 regular season games Monday by hosting the Philadelphia 76ers, who have lost 24-straight games in a row. With the NBA playoffs approaching in the next four weeks, we’ll preview the Spurs’ schedule down the stretch, and look at how far their 13-game winning streak could potentially be extended.
Less two day breaks, three more back-to-back sequences
The last time the Spurs had two days of rest were last Monday and Tuesday (03/17-03/18). Since they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers last Wednesday, the Spurs have played three games in five nights, including a back-to-back sweep of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. The Spurs’ schedule doesn’t get any easier in the next two weeks as they won’t get another two days off until April 4th and 5th. So, if you go back to last Wednesday’s game and look ahead to their final game before getting two days off (on the road in Oklahoma City on 04/03), the Spurs will have played 10 games in 16 days. Six of those games will have been on the road and three of them will have been back-to-back sequences. Of those 10 opponents during the stretch from 03/19-04/03, four of them will have been teams with winning records.
After the Spurs’ two days off on 04/04 and 04/05, they will have a stretch of four games in six nights. All four of those opponents (Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns) could all be fighting down the stretch to earn a playoff position as they’re doing at the moment. After getting two more days off on 04/12 and 04/13, the Spurs will finish the season on the road against the Houston Rockets (04/14) and then at home against the Los Angeles Lakers (04/16).
As Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been known to do, he’ll be willing to rest players possibly on the second night of a back-to-back, like he did Saturday recently against the Warriors, withholding Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. With six games in 11 nights coming in the next two weeks, there’s a strong chance a few of the Spurs’ core players will get a rest game or two in, unless the team is able to just roll and wrap up games by the end of the third quarter.
From here, I’ll be detailing the Spurs’ last 13 opponents based on how each has been doing after the All-Star break, on a week-by-week basis. In terms of the 13-game winning streak, keep in mind that the Spurs are 29-2 against teams with losing records (below.500). Their lone two losses against minus .500 teams were against the New York Knicks, and in Detroit against the Pistons, when the Spurs were missing Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard.
Week of 03/24-03/30
03/24 vs. 76ers (15-55) – As stated above, the 76ers are on a 24 game losing streak. They’re 0-16 out of the All-Star break and getting beat by 14.9 points per game. There’s a good chance the Spurs’ streak extends to 14 games.
03/26 – vs. Denver Nuggets (32-38) – The Nuggets are 8-11 out of the All-Star break, but playing hard, as they’re only losing by 3.1 points per game. The Spurs could extend the streak to 15 so long as they respect their opponent and don’t take them lightly.
03/28 – at Nuggets – The Spurs will have Thursday off before flying to Denver for a Friday game against the Nuggets. As long as the change in altitude doesn’t make too much of a difference, there’s a good chance the streak could extend to 16.
02/29 – vs. New Orleans Pelicans (29-40) – The Pelicans are 6-11 post All-Star break and also playing tough behind Anthony Davis, as they’re only falling by 4.4 points per game. This game has a strong possibility of being the game where the Spurs’ streak could be snapped depending on how the previous night goes in Denver. If the Spurs are able to blow out the Nuggets the night before in Denver, then there’s a strong chance their full squad will play against the Pelicans. However, if it’s a dog fight against the Nuggets, then chances are Popovich will rest some players, giving the Pelicans a chance at ending the streak.
Week of 03/31-04/06
03/31 – at Indiana Pacers (51-19) – The Pacers are 11-7 out of the All-Star break, but just barely winning any of their games. Their margin of victory is 0.5 points per game. They’ve had some serious issues on the offensive side of the ball, as their Offensive Ratting is ranked 25th in the NBA after the All-Star break scoring 102.0 points per 100 possessions, while their Defensive Rating is ranked 6th during that stretch, holding teams to 100.8 points per 100 possessions. The Pacers are scoring just 96.7 points per game during the post All-Star stretch. It’ll be interesting to see how the Spurs matchup with them today, compared to how the Pacers took control of San Antonio in the first meeting back in early December.
04/02 – vs. Warriors (44-27) – The Warriors have the fourth best record out of the All-Star break at 13-5, but they’re winning close games with a 4.3 points per game margin. In the last two matchups with the Spurs, the Warriors haven’t fared well, as the Spurs beat them the first time minus Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili, then on Saturday, San Antonio defeated them minus Duncan and Ginobili.
04/03 – at Thunder (51-18) – The Thunder are 8-6 out of the All-Star break barely defeating their opponents by 2.8 points per game. Whether it’s the Russell Westbrook dynamic, or missing Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder aren’t the same team at the moment they were in January and February. The Thunder though have had the Spurs’ number this season, defeating San Antonio each time the two have played. Unless the Spurs blow out or get blown out in Oakland the night before, there’s a strong chance players will be rested against the Thunder since it will be on a back-to-back night.
Week of 04/07-04/13
04/06 – vs. Grizzlies (41-28) – The Grizzlies have been the 5th best team out of the All-Star break with a 12-5 record, as they’re winning by a comfortable 5.2 points per game. The Grizzlies have been fighting to stay alive for one of the final three playoff seeds in the West.
04/08 – at Timberwolves (34-34) – This game wasn’t originally scheduled, but due to the fire in Mexico City back in December, it was placed here. The Wolves are 9-6 out of the All-Star break, barely winning their games by .6 points per game. Unless the Grizzlies, Suns, Warriors, or Mavericks go on some unexpected losing streak, there’s a strong chance the Wolves won’t catch those teams to fight for the eighth seed.
04/10 – at Mavericks (42-49) – The Mavericks are 10-7 out of the All-Star break winning by just 3.1 points per game. This season, the Spurs have yet to lose to Dallas, but Dallas will have a fire under them as they too are trying to hold on to one of the last three playoff spots.
04/11 – vs. Suns (41-29) – The Suns are 11-8 out of the All-Star break barely winning their games by 1.3 points per game. Like some of the other second night on back-to-backs, it will depend how the Spurs play in Dallas the evening before that will determine if Popovich will rest players against the Suns. The Spurs’ last loss came to the Suns on a second night of a back-to-back, as the Suns blew out the Spurs, as San Antonio was missing a few core players.
Week of 04/14-04/16
04/14 – at Houston Rockets (47-22) – The Rockets are 11-5 out of the All-Star break beating teams by a comfortable 7.7 points per game. Like the Thunder, the Rockets have been the only other Western Conference team that the Spurs just haven’t been able to figure out, as San Antonio is 0-3 against Houston on the season. Although, by the final week, both Popovich and Kevin McHale may elect to rest some players as the playoffs will be beginning that weekend.
04/16 – vs. Los Angeles Lakers (22-46) – The Lakers are 4-11 out of the All-Star break, losing by 12.7 points on average. Even if Popovich elects to rest players, this will be the Lakers’ last chance at getting another loss to improve their draft status.
Going into Monday the Spurs hold a two game lead over the Thunder in the Western Conference, and 2.5 game lead over the Pacers in terms of both conferences. After Saturday’s win against the Warriors, Sean Elliot from Fox Sports Southwest asked Danny Green if the Spurs are keeping an eye on the standings, and Green said they weren’t. Once Green left, Elliot said, though the Spurs won’t say it publicly, there is a good chance they are looking at the opportunity to have home court in each round of the playoffs, if they can hold onto the first seed.
However, as you know Popovich’s history, he’s not known to go after a season win on the second night of back-to-back, if his core players played heavy minutes the evening before, for the sake of improving his playoff spot. It’ll be interesting to see how the Spurs fare in these final four weeks of the regular season, but the one thing they’re sure of is, that they’ve already been invited to the post-season by clinching a playoff berth.
(All records and stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com)