Overall, February was a strong month for the San Antonio Spurs. Despite producing what was easily their worst offensive performance of the year against the Memphis Grizzlies and losing a game to the New York Knicks, who looked like they were spiraling at the time, the Spurs performed well otherwise and made good progress on finding different lineups for different situations. March will prove to have some challenges of its own, as 7 of the 17 games in the month are against strong Western Conference playoff teams. March will also provide a good indication of how prepared the Spurs are for the playoffs, or if they need to make any more adjustments.
Week 1 ( vs Pacers, @ Pelicans, vs Timberwolves): For the first game of the month, the Spurs squeaked out a close against the Indiana Pacers. Despite poor offense at times, the Spurs were able to stay in the game behind good play from Kawhi Leonard, David Lee, and Pau Gasol. Friday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans will be DeMarcus Cousin’s first game back from his suspension, which he received due to him picking up his 18th technical foul of the season. Many wondered how Cousins would immediately fit into the Pelicans and if he would instantly make them a playoff team. However, they are 1-3 since the trade with a net rating of -7.1 in that span. There is still time for them to right the ship, but losing Friday’s game to the Spurs would make the road much more difficult. The Minnesota Timberwolves, on the other hand, have gone 3-1 since the All-Star break and are currently closer to a playoff spot than the Pelicans are. In that four game stretch, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have averaged a combined 54.3 points per game. Towns in particular could provide a tough match-up for the Spurs.
Week 2 ( vs Rockets, vs Kings, @ Thunder, vs Warriors): The Houston Rockets are currently further back from the Spurs in the standings than the Spurs are from the Golden State Warriors, meaning it would be difficult for the Rockets to overtake the Spurs for the second seed in the Western Conference. However, that doesn’t make the Rockets any less dangerous to the Spurs. The Rockets’ up-tempo, three-heavy offense will provide one of the greatest tests to the Spurs’ defense as the playoffs draw closer and may provide a preview to a potential Western Conference semi-final match-up. The Spurs then play the Sacramento Kings, who despite winning their first game after trading Cousins have gone 0-2 since. Even though the Kings look to be in a position to accumulate losses to earn a higher draft pick, the Spurs have had several tough losses to sub .500 teams this season. After playing the Kings, the Spurs will travel to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder. Despite being the seventh seed, the Thunder are only 1.5 games out of fourth place in the West. Their net rating of -2.4 in February is a bit deceptive, as they had three blowout (Chicago Bulls, Warriors, and Washington Wizards) losses during the month, but played solid otherwise. Teams with athletic point guards, such as Russel Westbrook, can give the Spurs’ guards trouble. The final game of the week is the first home game against the Warriors. If the Spurs want to overtake the Warriors for the top spot in the West, this game will be crucial. Although Kevin Durant will miss this game (and almost certainly the game they play later in the month as well), Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green alone could prove to be a handful for the Spurs. After playing well against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich may give Dejounte Murray some playing time to see how he handles the matchup.
Week 3 ( vs Hawks, vs Trail Blazers, @ Grizzlies): To start week 3, the Spurs look to avenge their early January loss to the Hawks. After gauging interest on Paul Millsap earlier in the season, the Hawks have double-downed on his status as the franchise player in Atlanta. Overall, the Hawks have been a bit inconsistent in terms of results, producing a 5-6 record during February after winning 11 of 15 games in January. The Trail Blazers are one of the five teams vying for the final playoff spot in the West. They may be slowly slipping out of this race, however, as they have gone 2-7 since the beginning of February, producing a net rating of -5.5 in that span. But, the back court of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum could provide match-up issues for the Spurs, as they have averaged a combined 49.4 points per game since the start of the calendar year. The Memphis Grizzlies’ defense overwhelmed the Spurs in the first meeting. While the Spurs were missing both Pau Gasol and Leonard for that match up, even if they have all players active, the Grizzlies will surely test the effectiveness of the Spurs’ offense.
Week 4 ( vs Kings, @ Timberwolves, vs Grizzlies, vs Knicks): The Spurs start week 4 by facing off against the Kings once again. Barring injury, not much should be different about this match-up compared to the one earlier in the month. This game is on the second night of a back-to-back, so it may provide an opportunity for some of the Spurs’ younger players to get extended playing time. The Spurs then travel to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves. There is a good chance the Timberwolves will still be in the the contested race for the eight seed by this point in the month if Towns continues to perform at the level he has over the recent games. If they are, this game could prove to be an even greater challenge than the one earlier in the month as the Timberwolves will not only be fighting for their spot in the playoffs, but will have had more time to get adjusted to having Zach Lavine out of the lineup. The Spurs’ next game against the Grizzlies is at home, although it should be a similar matchup to the one a week before, otherwise. The Grizzlies’ defensive rating improved by over two points in February, but has faltered again since the All-Star break. As with the Hawks, the Spurs will be looking to avenge their loss against the New York Knicks in March. That victory against the Spurs, however, was one of only three in February for New York. Depending on how close the Spurs are to the Warriors in the standings, this may be a prime opportunity for a rest game for some of the older veterans on the team.
Week 5 ( vs Cavaliers, vs Warriors, @ Thunder): To start the final week of the month, the Spurs will face off against the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have had a rough return after the All-Star break, going 2-2 with a net rating of .4 and struggling with some injuries. However, by this game, the Cavaliers will have almost certainly returned to form and have incorporated their recently signed players. Expect a close game, similar to the match-up these two teams had in mid-January. After facing off against the Cavaliers, the Spurs play the Warriors at home again. By this point, the Spurs should know whether or not they are in contention for the top seed in the West, which could determine if some players are sidelined for rest. Depending on how quickly his leg recovers, Kevin Durant may participate in this game. The final game of the month is against the Thunder in OKC. This game should provide a full showcase of Westbrook’s athleticism as he makes the final push for MVP honors. If Tony Parker sits this game out for rest, Murray may be tasked with defending Westbrook for large portions of the game.
Predictions: Last month, I predicted the Spurs would go 8-2, 2-0 at home and 6-2 on the Rodeo Road Trip, which ended up being correct on all three accounts. For March, I predict the Spurs will go 13-4, with a record of 10-2 at home and 3-2 on the road. Overall, the games throughout March should provide the Spurs with insight as to how prepared they are for the playoffs.
All stats obtained from nba.com/stats.