We are now 85% complete with the 2014-2015 NBA season, and the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in the sixth position in the West. If the playoffs started today the Houston Rockets would host the Spurs in the first round- not that the Toyota Center is a particularly tough place to play, but the Spurs want the first round at home.
San Antonio is an average road team this year- in fact almost exactly average (18-17). If we extend that into the playoffs, the Spurs do more than just want the first round at home, they need it.
Mar 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) reacts with center Matt Bonner (15) after defeating the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Spurs defeated the Hawks 114-95. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
With that stated, San Antonio needs to move up the standings, and they don’t have much time to make their move. To get to fourth place, and home court advantage, they only have to jump two teams, Portland and the LA Clippers. The West is so compact that to do so San Antonio needs to make up only a single game on LA.
Before we get into the weeds with the four, five, and sixth positions in the playoff bracket, lets look around the conference.
Golden State is the best in the West. Steve Kerr’s team is 57-13 on the year with only 12 games remaining. They are simply dominate at home (34-2). That is just incredible- two losses. They do show, however, some vulnerability on the road at 23-11. That record isn’t considerably better than Houston, Dallas, or Memphis. The Warriors also own the best conference record. Against the West, they are 33-8. That record isn’t just mind-blowing when you look at the other Conference teams. Memphis is 31-13 against its peers, and the Clippers also have 30 wins against the Western Conference. Nobody will catch Golden State for the top seed in the West, but they are not invulnerable in the playoffs.
Memphis earned a playoff spot last night with a win over New York. With 11 games to go they have a 70% winning percentage but are still 7.5 games back from the Warriors. San Antonio doesn’t have enough head-to-head games left against Memphis to make a dent in their lead. They play on March 29, to close their season series. However, should the Spurs take the game on March 29, they could be sitting just four games behind the Grizzlies for the second-spot in the conference. Aside from the Spurs, Memphis still has Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City, a motivated Pelicans team, the Clippers, and Golden State a final time. They have the most difficult remaining schedule in the West. There could be as many as five losses in that grouping. The Grizzlies could drop from second to sixth in that scenario.
Houston is another matter. James Harden went for 44 last night in a win over the Pacers, and has shown no signs of stopping. His productivity this year has been amazing. Houston, with 47 wins, is just 2.5 games ahead of the Spurs, and has to play them twice (April 8, April 10). Aside from the two games against San Antonio, and one each against Dallas and Oklahoma City, Houston doesn’t have to play anyone competitively the rest of the way. They should hold their position in the West.
Somehow Portland has maintained their positioning despite losing Wesley Matthews to injury, and with a less-than-100% LaMarcus Aldridge in the front court. They are a half-game up on the Spurs in the loss column. They have had virtually the same performance as San Antonio this year. They score 102.6 points per contest and allow 97.9. The Spurs are scoring 102.5 and allowing 97.8 per game. The difference in playoff positioning is that San Antonio took their injury lumps early in the year, and the Trailblazers are feeling them now. Portland has lost four games in a row.
The Clippers are the real oddity. While they have a true defensive star in DeAndre Jordan, and decent perimeter defenders, they give up an insane amount of points. The are allowing 100.5 points per game. Those are Minnesota numbers. The flip side is that they are the home of the conference’s best offense (106.1 PPG). In the playoffs, LA is going to rely on its shooters versus the defensive scheme. Even Blake Griffin will continue to shoot that 15 footer jumper versus taking the ball down on the block. As we’ve seen in past Western Conference Playoffs that methodology isn’t a recipe for success. They are going to earn a lot of wins down the stretch. Outside of games against the Warriors, Trailblazers, and Grizzlies, they face either bad Eastern Conference teams, or the worst of the West. Their final game against Phoenix could be for the Suns playoff hopes, so anything could happen. All that said, the Spurs can move past the Clippers if they play their cards right.
The Spurs have 12 games left. They are a full game up on Dallas, and 4.5 up on Oklahoma City. Neither will reclaim a position any higher than seventh. The Spurs are 8-2 in their last 10 games, which is only behind Golden State for the conference’s best record over that stretch. They are getting hot at the right time. With Manu Ginobili projected to return tonight against Dallas, they are 100% healthy. Watch out.
San Antonio will move into the top-four in the West by season’s end, earning home court advantage in the first round after a very up and down season. To do so, they will also achieve another coveted 50-win season in the illustrious careers of Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and coach Gregg Popovich.
My first round match ups are:
Golden State (1) v. Oklahoma City (8)Memphis (2) v. Dallas (7)Houston (3) v. Portland (6)San Antonio (4) v. Los Angeles (Clippers) (5)