San Antonio Spurs: The Keys to Playoff Success.

Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots the ball over Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots the ball over Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs will head to Utah to take on the fifth seed Jazz in the final game of the regular season.

The Spurs will have their final regular season tune-up game tonight in Utah, against a Jazz team that has played the Spurs well, winning one of the three matchups this season.

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For the Spurs, this game means nothing in terms of seeding, as they are locked into the two seed in the West. For the Jazz, they are currently tied with the Los Angeles Clippers, with the Clippers owning the tie-breaker. If the Jazz want the fourth seed, they have to beat the Spurs, as well as bank on a Clippers loss against the Sacramento Kings.

Regardless, the Jazz and the Clippers will play in the first round of the playoffs, but the final game of the season will determine who will have home-court advantage.

Unfortunately, the Jazz are a young team that is new to the playoff scene, and home-field advantage would have been a great advantage for them.

On the other hand, the Spurs will look to put together a complete 48-minute game tonight, to get themselves prepared for a battle against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

Spurs report no injuries for Wednesday's finale at Utah. Not even Dejounte Murray.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 11, 2017

Despite having clinched the second seed, head coach Gregg Popovich hasn’t been pleased with the Spurs efforts recently, leading him to not rest his players in the final game of the season.

While the Spurs have had stellar seasons in the past two years (not including this season), they haven’t had much playoff success.

In 2015, they lost to the Clippers in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs. In 2016, they were beaten by the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games in the second round of the playoffs.

If the Spurs want to have legitimate playoff success, this is the formula they will need.

Heavy Dose of Kawhi Leonard

First thing’s first: The Spurs are going to need an MVP-caliber Leonard in the playoffs.

In 33.5 minutes per game, Leonard is averaging 25.7 points per game (career high) on 48.6% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists (career high), including percentages of 87.9% from the free throw line (career high) and 38% from beyond the arc.

According to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, Leonard’s average of 25.7 points per game is the highest total since David Robinson’s 27.8 points per game in 1994-1995, the year Robinson was awarded the NBA MVP.  Popovich acknowledged Leonard’s greatness:

“He’s a really unique individual,” coach Gregg Popovich said of Leonard. “I think he’s the best two-way player in the league. I don’t think anybody else does what he does at both ends of the court, night after night. He’s a pretty special guy.”

Leonard, in typical Leonard fashion, is just focused on getting better.

“Just making sure we execute plays, everybody’s mind is involved in the game, just being sharp,” Leonard said. “Making gradual steps to being sharper.”

Come playoff time, teams rely much heavier on their superstar talent, even the Spurs. When the defense tightens up, and the team needs a clutch basket, Leonard will have to deliver.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem like the pressure bothers him, so i’m confident Leonard will continue his stellar 2016-2017 campaign well into the playoffs.

Vintage LaMarcus Aldridge

Even the greatest players need help.

Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James has Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry has Klay Thompson, and Leonard needs Aldridge.

In the playoffs, you need a secondary scoring option, and that’s where Aldridge comes in. In his first playoff stint with the Spurs, Aldridge averaged 21.9 points per game on 52.1% shooting, along with 8.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

If Aldridge can reciprocate these efforts, the Spurs will be in prime position to compete for their sixth NBA championship. If Aldridge and Leonard can give you 50 points a night, the Spurs role players can easily fill in the rest.

Despite career lows this season, Popovich thought Aldridge has played very well:

“He’s been really good this year,” Popovich said. “He’s more confident shooting the ball, and not deferring so much. He’s trying to fit in and be aggressive. That’s what we want from him.”

Aldridge is ready for his second playoff appearance with the Spurs:

“We just have to keep fine-tuning things,” Aldridge said. “Just keep trying to get better and then turning it up when it starts.”

The key for Aldridge is aggressiveness. Popovich’s system can be tricky for guys who are used to being the focal point of their previous offense, as being unselfish is the recipe for success. Come playoff time, Aldridge has to look for his own shot, and pass when it isn’t there.

Dangerous Danny Green

Green has rested the last few games nursing an injury, which should serve him well, as he’s logged heavy minutes throughout the season.

A huge reason the Spurs won in 2014 was the hot shooting of Green, who was nearly unconscious from beyond the arc. This year, he hasn’t been as sharp, and fans are beginning to wonder if he can regain his shooting touch.

Green’s individual defense is already stellar, and if he can find his stroke from beyond the arc, the Spurs become a legitimate threat to reach the Conference Finals.

Efficient Tony Parker

When Parker wasn’t injured this season, he was very passive offensively. Granted, he is the point-guard, and his main job is to make sure everyone gets involved.

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However, I have seen Parker pass up his go-to mid-range jumper plenty of times, looking to pass the ball to his teammates. In the playoffs, Parker has to take that shot, and put the pressure on the defense to defend it.

Parker is averaging 10.1 points per game this season, his lowest total since his rookie season back in 2001-2002. He is averaging 4.6 assists per game, also his lowest total since his rookie season. Most importantly, he is averaging just 9.0 field goal attempts per game, again his lowest total since his rookie season.

Part of his lack of aggression could be attributed to his injuries, which hurt his confidence shooting the ball. At this point, Parker has been healthy for a few weeks, and should be ready to roll against the Grizzlies.

An efficient Parker causes havoc for opposing defenses. If Parker is hitting his mid-range jumper consistently, the defense can’t go under the screen, allowing Parker to get into the paint.

At that point, Parker can choose to score, or dish it to one of his bigs. An aggressive Parker puts points on the board, and opens things up for his teammates.

Effective Bench

In the playoffs, the rotations tighten up, and the starters see the brunt of the minutes. While the Spurs still may utilize their role players more than other teams, they still abide by this rule.

This means that the bench will have to be effective in their limited time.

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  • Patty Mills, a role player who will likely see plenty of time at point guard, has to continue to be himself. Mills has been a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, and loves to push the ball. Against a team’s second unit, Mills, more times than not, will have an advantage.

    Pau Gasol, the unsung hero of the Spurs season, has altered his game for the betterment of the Spurs, and his own career. Gasol is shooting a whopping 53.9% from three-point range, which is a vital addition to Gasol’s game. If he can continue to shoot that percentage, it gives the Spurs an added dimension from their center off the bench.

    Manu Ginobli, old reliable, is still playing at a high-level, despite being 39 years old. His minutes have been managed, and his leadership in the playoffs will be key against the opposing team’s secondary unit. If Ginobli, Mills, and Gasol can continue their hot shooting, they will cause havoc for opposing defenses.

    Last, but not least, David Lee, who has gone under the radar this season. Whenever Lee plays, he gives the Spurs contributions on both ends of the floor. Lee is a skilled scorer with both hands, an excellent passer, and a relentless rebounder, all skills that will come in handy come playoff time.

    Savvy Popovich

    Lastly, the Spurs will need a savvy Popovich to succeed in the playoffs.

    Why? The Spurs have 9 guys who are deserving of playing time, and Popovich will have to figure out when to use what players. Luckily, this has been Popovich’s calling card for the better part of two decades, so Spurs fans shouldn’t be worried about this one.

    Determining when to go to the bench and when to play certain role players with certain starters will be the key for the Spurs, as they have such a talented group of guys.

    It seems like the last two weeks of the season, Popovich was experimenting with these different lineups, which probably resulted in some losses these past two weeks.

    However, it’s about seeing who plays well in certain situations, and i’m confident Popovich will have things figured out come Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs.

    Go Spurs Go

    Immediately following the game tonight, the Spurs season will end, and the playoffs will begin.

    The Spurs play in the Western Conference, which means playing the seventh seed will still be an incredibly competitive series. The Grizzlies are a tough defensive team who love to pound the glass and play aggressively, which doesn’t bode well for the long term health of the Spurs.

    Nevertheless, the Spurs are too talented offensively to be beaten four times by the Grizzlies.

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    However, before that series can start, the Spurs need to handle business tonight, putting together a complete game, cementing their confidence heading into the playoffs.

    The best part of the season is finally here, so let’s enjoy it together, Spurs fans.