The San Antonio Spurs have just 23 games to go in the 2017-18 season. What should they look to achieve?
With the NBA All-Star Weekend completed, the attention will return to the regular season. For the San Antonio Spurs, they will not return until Friday, Feb. 23 vs. the Denver Nuggets. This starts the final 23 games of the season, before a potential playoff run.
Before the 2017-18 campaign started, for any team, there may have been goals set to achieve. However, over halfway into the season, some of these change and redirect toward something else.
For the Spurs, which three goals should they eye before the playoffs start in April? Let’s take a look:
3. Get healthy
Getting the Spurs healthy will be a no-brainer goal of the second half. Injuries ravaged the Spurs for almost all 59 games, with injuries hitting nearly every player on the roster, except Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes.
Entering the second half of the season, the Spurs still have Rudy Gay and Kawhi Leonard out with injuries. LaMarcus Aldridge hurt his right knee before the All-Star Break, but played in Sunday’s All-Star Game, which should be a positive sign toward his return for Friday’s game vs. the Denver Nuggets. The focus will be the previous two players, however.
When healthy, Gay slotted in as a sixth man for San Antonio. He worked in a stretch four role, whether it was next to Aldridge or Pau Gasol, and provided the lineup a smaller look. The end of February will be two months without the team’s top offseason signing, due to right heel bursitis.
As for Leonard, the Spurs only had him for nine games this season. First, it was the mysterious quad injury, followed by a shoulder ailment, only for the team to reveal the quad problems did not go away, which led to an indefinite shutdown. No official update has been provided since.
If both players can get healthy, who knows how far it can take this team, which still sits No. 3 in the Western Conference. Whether it means challenging the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors remains to be seen, but any hope for this will rise if Gay and Leonard can play. It’s far from a guarantee, though.
Next: Continue to develop young players
2. Continue to develop the young players
Not as much of a goal as a task, the San Antonio Spurs started to provide quality playing time to some of the roster’s youngest players. It’s a positive development for them, but one the Spurs can’t let up on in the second half, no matter how much the team struggles.
Dejounte Murray’s rise to starting point guard was arguably the most stunning move made. He supplanted Tony Parker, which no one had done since he entered the NBA in 2001. This continued the youth movement that started with Kawhi Leonard years earlier, along with LaMarcus Aldridge’s acquisition, even though he was 30 years old upon arrival. Murray’s inclusion in the lineup brought a 21-year old with tantalizing length and athleticism that’s loaded with potential.
At center, the most recent of the two moves, saw Davis Bertans move into the starting center spot and took over for Pau Gasol. While potentially not a permanent fixture, it’s one that lasted for the final five games of the first half.
There will be trials and tribulations with giving young players ample playing time, especially in the midst of a playoff race. Mistakes will be made, but also provide performances that flash the upside of these players and contribute toward a win. That has happened with Murray’s best games, including his double-double performances of double-digit points and double-digit rebounds.
Rolling with these young players may not solve anything this season. For the future, though, it’s much-needed experience that will play better for these long-term roles.
Next: Hold your ground
1. Hold ground in the Western Conference
The No. 3 spot has felt like the San Antonio Spurs’ spot in the Western Conference for most, if not all of the 59 games played. While it’s still the case, there are just three games that separate No. 3 and No. 8. 4.5 games if the No. 10 spot factors in.
With the 4-6 stretch to end the first half, it has left the Spurs with little margin for error. The West is too cluttered for them to afford another multi-game losing streak, which can push them out of the playoff race or at the No. 8 seed. That’s with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans behind them, all of whom feature at least one star player. There’s a threat from the Utah Jazz, too, who have won 11 consecutive games.
Easier said than done to stay ahead of these talented teams, however. The second half features a back-to-back-to-back vs. the Thunder, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. One of the first games back will be against the Cleveland Cavaliers, too.
A win in just one of these games likely will not be enough, even though the Spurs struggled against the Rockets and Warriors earlier this season. This Cavaliers team is not the same one the Silver and Black dominated in January, either.
San Antonio may not cross 50 wins, but it probably needs to win at least 15 games to be comfortable. Will this be the case?