The San Antonio Spurs And Their Fight For No. 8

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PSN illustration/Photos via Spurs

Death, taxes and San Antonio Spurs playing playoff basketball. These are the three certainties I’ve recognized as law for the past 22 years. I’m 27 years old and for 80 percent of my life, the Spurs have made the playoffs. However, that streak is in danger of being snapped this season.

No Moves At The Deadline

Spurs’ CEO R.C. Buford is not the type to execute trade deadline moves. In fact, the last time the Spurs made a trade at the midway point of the NBA season was in 2014, when they traded one of their backup guards, Nando De Colo, for Austin Daye. An insignificant move for San Antonio.

It’s been six years since that trade was made. The Spurs won the championship that season, avenging their previous years’ meltdown at the hand of the Miami Heat and Daye played a total of 40 games for the Spurs. 

Despite the scarcity of midseason trades, the Spurs have been fully entrenched in trade rumors. From the circus that was the Kawhi Leonard fiasco to the present day in which star duo LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have seen their fair share of trade rumors.

However, rumors be damned. As is tradition, the Spurs have let the trade deadline pass without making a move in new GM Brian Wright’s first trade deadline. DeRozan is still a Spur; Aldridge is still a Spur. Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl and DeMarre Carroll are still going to be suiting up for coach Gregg Popovich.

The Spurs probably received some interesting offers for their best assets–some offers that might’ve helped them in the future–but continuity wins out again in San Antonio.

That is to say, Buford and Co. took a look at their team and felt it was in their best interest to keep the band together and try to make that final push for a playoff spot. A feat that’s going to take some improved play from the Spurs, some bad play from the teams they’re competing with (Grizzlies and Blazers) for that last playoff spot and a little bit of luck. 

Remaining Schedule 

The website FiveThirtyEight predicts the Spurs will finish the season with a 35-47 record, which would put them behind the Grizz (37-45) and Blazers (40-42) in expected regular-season record.

Although San Antonio has been one of the more elite teams in the league throughout their 22-year run, they have had to buckle down after the All-Star break the past two seasons in order to get into the postseason. 

Coach Pop’s team finished with a 47-35 record in 2017-18 and snuck into the playoffs as a seventh seed. That season, they had the no. 17 offense and no. 3 defense and were bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors in a five-game series. 

The next season, the 2018-19 campaign, San Antonio finished one win better than the season prior (48-34), made the playoffs as a seventh seed, played better on offense (no. 7) but worse on defense (no. 19) and once again fell in the first round. This time to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in a tight seven-game series. 

I’m not used to this iteration of the Spurs. I’m positive lifetime Spurs fans echo the same sentiment. However, this team isn’t terrible. They remain competitive–sometimes. Will they step up when it counts once more? 

San Antonios’ current obstacle (trying to fight their way to nab a playoff spot) is not that far off from what they’ve had to tackle the previous two seasons.

Let’s look at their records after the trade deadline in 2018 and 2019:

  • In 2018 the trade deadline was on Feb. 8. The Spurs didn’t have a great record–going 12-14 down the stretch–but they took advantage of a six-game homestand late in the season. They won six straight including wins over the Warriors and Jazz.
  • In 2019 the Spurs went absolutely bonkers after the trade deadline. The deadline landed on Feb. 7 (the NBA has continued to inch it up year after year) and San Antonio took off with a 16-9 record–including winning nine straight at one point–to close the season.  

The 2019-20 Spurs need to conjure up the spirit of last year’s team in order to keep their playoff streak alive. They didn’t make a move this season. No surprise. But they just lost a crucial game to the Blazers 125-117, a loss that knocks them back to tenth in the Western Conference. 

So you know, maybe do a little better job conjuring.

It Looks Grim

According to the site Tankathon, the Spurs have the second-toughest remaining schedule between them the Blazers, and the Grizzlies. They play the Nuggets and Jazz three times each down the stretch along with other strong opponents (Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers).

In addition to online sites predicting the Spurs’ fall from the NBA’s spring festivities, they’re currently mired in a three-game losing streak they desperately need to snap. (This season’s annual Rodeo Road Trip has been kicking their butts.) 

With the deadline behind them, maybe, and that’s a big maybe the guys on this team will be able to turn things around. Playing the lowly Kings on Saturday is a solid start to help snap a losing streak, but it only gets more laborious after the Sacramento game.

These are the final four games of the Spurs’ Rodeo Road Trip following their matchup with Sacramento: Nuggets, Thunder, Jazz, then Thunder again. That’s brutal.

Despite some solid individual performances from key players on the team (DeRozan, Aldridge, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray) this team lacks consistency or the defensive chops to do what last season’s team achieved. 

I don’t see this team ripping off a winning streak and catapulting themselves past Portland and Memphis for that final spot. And if they somehow prove me wrong and get it together, does it really matter?

On one hand, the answer is yes, of course, it matters. Doing something as hard as making the playoffs in the tougher of the two conferences for 22 straight years isn’t something to scoff at.

However, at this point do we want to see the Spurs claw their way up to the eighth seed just to watch everything burn to the ground in a four…maybe five-game series against the Lakers?

I don’t really have the answer to that question. I think it would be a crime for Damian Lillard to miss the playoffs. I’m a big Ja Morant fan and I think, unlike a lot of young players, he won’t show any fear in the face of the postseason.

But, the Spurs and playoffs is a pairing I’m used to; I’m comfortable with it. I think I’d feel gross knowing San Antonio was one of the seven Western Conference teams sitting at home watching playoff basketball like the rest of us. 

But it’s true: all good things come to an end. This season’s Rodeo Road Trip might be the nail in the coffin for a city that has embraced playoff certainty for more than two decades. 

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