Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Since I started writing for Air Alamo, the San Antonio Spurs have lost just one game.
Thanks to a San Antonio record 19-game (regular season) winning streak, the Spurs are looking at the first seed in the Western Conference, as well as home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
They currently stand at 59-17 through Saturday’s games, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are breathing down their necks at 55-20. The next closest teams have 23 losses already (Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat), so it would take an absolute collapse for either of them to be able to claim the best record in the NBA.
With only six games left to play (seven for the Thunder), it will be interesting to see who ends the season as the top seed, but there are a few factors we must consider.
Firstly, the Thunder are much more concerned with seeding than the Spurs. Typically, Coach Pop has forgone a win or two towards the end of the season in order to rest his key players.
This could easily be the case this season, as San Antonio face a few toughies before the end of the year. Also, given that the Spurs have the league’s best road record so far this season (29-9), having the higher seed is less of an incentive to them.
The other factors in play are the Thunder’s record against San Antonio this season (4-0), and the difficulty of the remaining games. The fact that the Thunder own the tie breaker means that they only need to equal the Spurs’ record, not best it, in order to claim the top seed. That means the Thunder need the Spurs to lose 3 more games than them in order to catch up.
That’s not good news for San Antonio, because they have a much harder run-in with all but one of their games against potential Western Conference playoff teams.
Lets take a look at the specific opponents each team will have to play.
Who Will Get the Top Seed in the Western Conference?
**All stats courtesy of ESPN.com
San Antonio Spurs
Remaining games: vs. Memphis, @ Minnesota, @ Dallas, vs. Phoenix (B2B), @ Houston, vs. Lakers
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Easy Wins: Memphis, Lakers
Memphis, so far, hasn’t really put up any sort of fight against the Spurs, and have yet to beat San Antonio this season. Even though they have been very impressive since Marc Gasol returned, the combination of experience, rest and home court should be enough to put this one in the bag for the Spurs. The Lakers, on the other hand, just suck. And they don’t want to win anymore. The Spurs demolished them this season, going 3-0 with double digit wins in each game. It is very unlikely either of these games end up as a loss for the Good Guys.
Toughies: @ Minnesota, @ Dallas
Minnesota may not be in the playoffs this year, but thats not to say they aren’t a good team. Due to a loaded West, and an unfortunate record in close games, the Wolves sit in 10th place, despite having a similar talent level to the Bulls/Nets/Raptors tier that owns the 3-5 seeds in the Eastern Conference. Given the distance the Spurs will have to travel, it is easy to see Pop giving some of his players the day off in one of these games, as there is only one day of rest between them. Neither team is an easy matchup, especially away. I wouldn’t be surprised if San Antonio dropped both of these games, and if I had to pick, I would say they only win one of them.
Full-on Underdogs: vs. Phoenix, @ Houston
Phoenix have not been an easy opponent this season for the Spurs, despite their 2-1 record against them. San Antonio got blown out in the loss and only won the other two games by tight margins. Phoenix will be fighting to avoid the dreaded ninth (and non-playoff) seed so will be going all out in their remaining games. Add in the fact that this game is the second of a back-to-back and we could see some more players held out, or at least on a minutes limit. Risking an injury to a key player right now for the Spurs is not worth the extra wins at this point.
The Houston game will be the hardest of all of San Antonio’s remaining games. The Spurs have yet to beat Houston and the Rockets could have the third seed in their eyes. Separated from the Clippers by only 2 in the loss column, any faltering by L.A. will open a gap that Houston would love to jump into, and therefore make them that much more up for this inter-state rivalry match-up. Take into account the trouble that San Antonio has had controlling Houston’s backcourt, and I would probably chalk this one up as a loss for the Spurs. Either way, it will be a thrilling preview of a potential second round match-up.
3-3 record over the rest of the season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Remaining Games: @ Phoenix, @ Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers (B2B), vs. New Orleans, @ Indiana, @ New Orleans (B2B), vs. Detroit
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Easy Wins: @ Sacramento, vs. New Orleans, @ New Orleans, vs. Detroit
None of these teams are contending for the playoffs anymore, and are just looking at internal growth at this point, possibly even looking to lose games to gain a better lottery pick. This could lead to a lot of “experimental” lineups, in which Brian Roberts plays 38 minutes, or Rudy Gay plays centre. Throw in the fact that the Thunder will be gunning for the top seed, and to make sure they don’t fall behind either the Clippers or Miami for the second overall record, and we have a few blowouts for OKC.
It could be important to build up a big lead against Sacramento to allow the starters some rest for the following night, but that shouldn’t be a problem for this eminently talented team. The only possible danger game is the away at the Pellies, as it will be the second game of a back-to-back (which means no Russell Westbrook), and a big dose of Anthony Davis. Overall though, I expect four wins for the Kevin Durants.
Toughies: @ Phoenix, @ Indiana, @ L.A. Clippers
These three games involve opponents who will be actually trying to win, so therefore represent a step-up in difficulty. Phoenix, as mentioned earlier, are fighting just to stay in the playoffs and have already beaten the Thunder in Phoenix once this season already. The Pacers are in the middle of a huge offensive funk, and their defensive prowess has slipped recently as well. They have finally relinquished their grip on the one seed in the East, and will be looking to return to the top before the season ends. If any team in the league can end Kevin Durant’s 25+ points streak (currently at 40 games), it is Indiana at home.
Finally, the Clippers will be looking to stay ahead of Houston, and catch up to the Thunder, and they can take a step towards doing both by beating OKC in this Western Conference showdown. With Blake Griffin and Chris Paul playing their best basketball of the season this game has the making of a game that could go either way. But since this will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Thunder, as well as being in L.A. the edge has to go to the Clippers.
6-1 over the rest of the season.
OKC finish on 61-21
SAS finish on 62-20