San Antonio Spurs: Ranking the remaining 2017-18 games on winnability
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Eight games remain for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017-18 NBA season. Which ones can they walk out victoriously of?
After Sunday’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks, the San Antonio Spurs have just eight games left on their 2017-18 schedule. It’s after a long, dramatic season that saw everything that does not usually occur in the Alamo City happen. That’s Kawhi Leonard‘s injury, almost every other player on the roster get hurt, a slide out of the playoff picture and rumors that fans never associate with this organization.
Despite this, the Spurs remain in the middle of the playoff race, with a top eight spot in the Western Conference nearly secured. Attribute that to a seven-game winning streak, with the first six at home over the New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz, among other potential postseason squads.
While this winning streak moved the Silver and Black in the right direction, a playoff spot is still not a guarantee. It will take a few more wins against some of the NBA’s top teams to pull this off, including the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. However, the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers remain on the schedule, too, both of whom will not reach the postseason.
There’s arguably a greater chance of San Antonio winning some of these games more than others, depending on the opponent’s record, recent streak of wins or losses and their players. All these factors impact a forecast of the Spurs’ final stretch of the season. Jacob Goldstein of Nylon Calculus broke down where they fit among the NBA’s greatest strength of schedule.
Current and remaining strength of schedule for each #NBA team: pic.twitter.com/WgVdEf3TNy
— Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein) March 26, 2018
Starting Tuesday, Mar. 27, the last leg of this campaign starts. Can the Spurs win all of these games? Will they win six of these eight and reach the 50-win mark? Let’s look at how possible this is in ranking the final games and if LaMarcus Aldridge and company can win them.
Next: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets provided a struggle for the San Antonio Spurs all season. Despite Kawhi Leonard’s presence in one of these three games, it did not lead to a different result. The Spurs lost double-digits then and fell by this, or a higher amount, in the other two matchups.
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Houston’s high-volume scoring proved to be something San Antonio could not keep up with. Without Leonard, there’s no one to match James Harden or Chris Paul from the outside, with Eric Gordon around to stretch the floor and find open shots when teams cover these future Hall of Famers. Unless Danny Green finds his stroke or Rudy Gay delivers, it’s difficult to see these teams ever matching up.
The inside-outside look the Spurs present with LaMarcus Aldridge can only go so far vs. Houston, as well. If he dominates the paint but the Rockets consistently hit the outside shots that the Silver and Black cannot, then it limits them enough to keep the score within distance.
Of course, one bad shooting night puts the Spurs back into a game against the Rockets. However, if Harden struggles, Paul can pick up the slack. Even if both do, there’s enough scorers to make up for the shooting issues. It’s what makes them dangerous in the playoffs, not just to the Spurs.
Either way, it will be difficult to top this team on Sunday, Apr. 1. Happy Easter?
Next: Portland Trail Blazers
7. Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers had a meteoric surge in the second half of the season, with the San Antonio Spurs mostly out of their way. However, the Blazers did take the coveted No. 3 spot, behind the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, that San Antonio held for most of the season and essentially ran away with it. That was due to a 13-game winning streak, while the Spurs had one of their worst stretches of the year and collapsed to the line between a playoff team and lottery selection.
Even with this winning streak in the past, the Blazers remain one of the NBA’s hottest teams. They own an 8-2 record in the past 10 games and sit two spots ahead of the No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in the pack of teams barely separated from the playoffs and going home. It’s on the backs of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, both of whom average over 20 points per game. McCollum’s percentages even top Lillard’s, with 45.1 percent from the field and 41.3 percent behind the arc.
Portland, statistically, has one of the NBA’s best defenses to carry them, as well. At 103.2 points per game, it’s the fifth-fewest points given up by any team. Opponents only shoot 44.7 percent against them, too, which is among the best defensive marks.
If LaMarcus Aldridge struggles on the front line and Portland’s guards play relatively well on Saturday, Apr. 7, the Spurs will be in trouble. It’s a different team than they saw earlier this season and may provide a wide margin of defeat.
Next: Oklahoma City Thunder
Aside from a three-point win in November, when the Oklahoma City Thunder did not establish a dynamic with their “Big 3,” the San Antonio Spurs faced problems against them. The past two games had a deficit of 13 points, including just three in the Dec. 3 matchup. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony (combined 14-for-40 shooting) did not fare well against a stingy perimeter defense, and the same went for the Mar. 10 matchup.
The Spurs did not have issues scoring on Mar. 10, though, despite the 10-point loss. They hit 46.5 percent of their shots and went 10-for-20 from 3-point range, both of which were better numbers than the Thunder’s. However, trips to the free throw line were 24-7, in favor of Oklahoma City, and proved to be the deciding factor.
On Dec. 3, the Spurs did not have LaMarcus Aldridge available, but only shot 40.8 percent. The Thunder had issues from the field, too, but found a few more open jumpshots to secure the win.
The Spurs play the Thunder well, despite the losses these past two games. If George finds footing, however, this could present a different outcome on Mar. 29. That’s along with Westbrook’s potential dominance over young and old pieces in San Antonio’s backcourt.
Next: New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans might not be the San Antonio Spurs’ toughest opponent, but potentially their most important game of the season. It’s also the final one of the 2017-18 campaign on Wednesday, Apr. 11, on the road.
The Spurs are 1-2 against the Pelicans. The first loss happened with DeMarcus Cousins, while the second one resulted in 121 points being put up without him. Seven players scored in double-digits, including 25 points from Jrue Holiday and 26 from Anthony Davis. For a team that did not used to be a high-octane offense, this was a clinic and represented their 48.2 percent mark from the field — second-best in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference.
The Mar. 15 game provided a different look, as the Pelicans shot just 40 percent from the field. Davis still had his 21 points and 14 rebounds and Holiday had 24, but on 9-for-23 shooting. Outside of a modest game from Ian Clark, it was not the performance seen last time, which may have been an anomaly; New Orleans will not have seven players in double-figures every night. As long as they have the 2012 No. 1 pick in place, though, any game will be an issue.
This could be a battle for playoff positioning or a spot in the mix of eight teams. It will depend on how everyone around the Brow plays and if they struggle, it could be the Spurs’ night.
Next: Washington Wizards
At this point, the San Antonio Spurs schedule starts to become easier. That’s not to say they will not face talented teams, but it’s a noticeable dropoff from the Blazers, Pelicans, Rockets and Thunder.
The Spurs will face the Washington Wizards Tuesday, Mar. 27. It’s without John Wall, again, who missed all of the second half of the season due to a left knee injury. The Wizards still have Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter, but a 40-33 record seems unremarkable and they lost six of their last 10 games, one of which came against San Antonio.
It was only five days ago, the Spurs defeated the Wizards, 98-90. Beal had 21 points and Kelly Oubre matched this mark, but the rest of the team struggled to hit shots. The Silver and Black had their own trouble, but LaMarcus Aldridge’s 27 points bailed them out, while the team shot 49 percent.
Make that 18 in a row for the Spurs!
The Wizards haven't won in San Antonio since 1999. pic.twitter.com/Eq2wF2ZIfB
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 22, 2018
If Washington hits 3-point shots in the rematch and their 37.5 mark comes into play, it could pose an issue for the Spurs and their 35.2 percent mark from long distance — a bottom-five mark in the NBA. Efficient scoring from within the arc helped this team, this season, but any team that finds its stroke with 3-pointers can do damage against them.
Next: Los Angeles Clippers
After the offseason loss of Chris Paul, the midseason trade of Blake Griffin and the near-trade of DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers still have a chance at the postseason. They sit at 39-34 and just 2.5 games out of the mix at No. 10. This might be too late to make a run, but it’s still above anything expected from this team without their two best players of the past decade.
However, the Clippers did have a playoff spot just weeks ago, and lost it when the San Antonio Spurs went on their run and the Utah Jazz rattled off multiple winning streaks. A two-game streak from the Denver Nuggets might have ended Los Angeles’ hopes, but the team still possesses talent to give their opponents problems.
The Spurs and Clippers have not faced off since December, when Griffin was part of the team, so it’s difficult to match up or predict how Tuesday, Apr. 3 will result based on rosters and talent. A stretch of facing the Indiana Pacers twice, the Milwaukee Bucks twice, the Toronto Raptors and the Portland Trail Blazers, all before San Antonio comes to town, might determine this, however, and how the Clippers play in their brutal schedule to close the season.
Look for a Spurs win here, if they can wear out Doc Rivers‘ team. Could it even be a blowout?
Next: Los Angeles Lakers
The last time the San Antonio Spurs faced the Los Angeles Lakers, it was not the expected outcome. This happened on Mar. 3, after Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance went to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Six Lakers scored in double figures, including Isaiah Thomas‘ 21 points, 25 points from Julius Randle and double-doubles from Lonzo Ball and Kentavius Caldwell-Pope.
The young Lakers pose a dangerous, athletic threat to the Spurs, and despite being the second-easiest remaining opponent, a win is not a given. Especially when they go head-to-head with some of the team’s older, injured players, including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay, who may not be fully healthy.
However, in this previous matchup, the Spurs did not have LaMarcus Aldridge available. Will he be the difference maker on Wednesday, Apr. 4, and limit the work of Randle inside? This game was only a four-point deficit, despite the Lakers shooting 15-for-34 from the field, something else that will probably not happen again.
Another thing that goes in San Antonio’s favor? This loss was part of Los Angeles’ hottest run of the season, which locked them into the No. 11 spot in the West, rather than Phoenix suns territory. The same cannot be said since, with a 4-6 record to show.
Next: Sacramento Kings
The second-to-last game of the season could be an easy one for the San Antonio Spurs, but is their lightest matchup remaining, record wise. It’s against the Sacramento Kings, who own a 24-50 record and the No. 12 spot in the Western Conference.
This will be the game San Antonio needs to gain playoff ground before the final game or take in a must-win opportunity to avoid the NBA Lottery. Sacramento is one of the schedule’s two remaining teams that will not make the playoffs, and already provided to not be a challenge against the five-time NBA champions.
The Spurs and Kings last went head-to-head on Jan. 28, which resulted in a 113-98 win. It was on the back of Bryn Forbes‘ 23 points and Pau Gasol‘s 11 rebounds, as they won by 15 points without spectacular play from LaMarcus Aldridge. The team also shot 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range to aid the effort.
Meanwhile, Sacramento hit just 42.7 percent of their shots but made 18 of 34 from behind the arc. The latter number seems unlikely to happen again, and if that’s the case, this could be a wider margin of victory than 15.
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