Predicting the final eight games of the San Antonio Spurs regular season
By Ethan Farina
Here’s how the rest of the San Antonio Spurs regular season could play out
It’s officially official, the San Antonio Spurs are heading to Orlando to wrap up their regular season and fight for a shot at making the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year. The news broke earlier this week and instantly sent waves of excitement through the NBA world. After months of waiting, the NBA is coming back on July 31st.
They’re guaranteed the eight wrap up games, but getting back into the postseason will be a difficult task for our Spurs. They’re four games out of the 8th seed right now, but they don’t need to completely close that gap to make the playoffs. Thanks to a new wrinkle added into this postseason, if the 9th seeded team is four games or less back from the 8th seed, the two will enter into a play-in series that is single elimination for the 9th seed and double elimination for the 8th seed.
Stuck behind three other teams for the 9th spot in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs have some ground to make up. And they’ll have to do that while taking some of the biggest stars in the NBA. By sending only 22 teams to Orlando, the league trimmed a lot off the lesser competition off the remaining regular-season games. No one gets to pencil in a win over the Knicks or Warriors at this point, every team heading to Florida has something to fight for. That’s going to make these final few games even more exciting.
Let’s take a deeper look at the San Antonio Spurs final eight opponents, how the team has performed against them so far this season, and how things could shake out in Orlando.
Next: Denver Nuggets
San Antonio Spurs v. Denver Nuggets
Regular Season Games Played: 1 (Denver leads 1-0)
Regular Season Games Left: 2 (Game 1 and Game 6)
The Denver Nuggets have had the San Antonio Spurs number over the past year. They knocked them out of the first round of the playoffs last year and could spoil their post-season hopes again this year. Denver is one of the most dynamic, multi-pronged offenses in the league. They’re a real problem for San Antonio thanks to all the mismatches they can create.
The Nuggets attack begins with Nikola Jokic, he’s the fulcrum that everything else runs through. Jamal Murray is an up and coming star but more often than not he’s going to beat you with his scoring, not his playmaking. In their lone matchup this year, as well as that playoff series last year, Jakob Poeltl played strong man to man defense on Jokic. But even when Jokic isn’t scoring he’s able to slice the Spurs up thanks to the bevy of guards that the Nuggets have.
It’s no secret that the Spurs perimeter defenders have gotten torched this year. You can’t continue to roll Bryn Forbes out in a starting role and not expect to get blitzed by the opposing team’s guards. Letting Derrick White or Lonnie Walker cut into his minutes, especially in these games against the Nuggets, could be the key to success for the Spurs.
Everyone on the Spurs is going to need to keep their heads on a swivel to keep up with the Nuggets’ fast-passing attack. They’re fourth in the league in assist right now and, to be honest, at times their offense can resemble the ‘Beautiful Game’ Spurs that we saw win the title back in 2014. That’s really the highest compliment we can pay an opposing team, they’re that fun and dangerous.
One thing that could help the Spurs is if things shake out in a way that the Nuggets position in the standings is locked in by Game 6, or if they want a strategic loss to help align their path through the playoffs in a way they prefer more, it could help San Antonio. But if that doesn’t happen it’s hard to see San Antonio stealing two games against a team with real title aspirations.
Our production: Spurs and Nuggets split series 1-1
Next: Memphis Grizzlies
San Antonio Spurs v. Memphis Grizzlies
Regular Season Games Played: 3 (Memphis leads 2-1)
Regular Season Games Left: 1 (Game 2)
After opening their remaining regular-season schedule against the Denver Nuggets the San Antonio Spurs will have one of their most important games in Game 2. The Memphis Grizzlies currently have a four-game lead on the Spurs in the playoff standings, knocking them down a peg in their lone matchup in Orlando is key for San Antonio’s playoff hopes.
In this matchup, slowing down Ja Morant is key for the Spurs. He tore through San Antonio’s perimeter defense the last time the two teams played, tallying 22 points and 14 assists along the way. He’s lethal from inside and is always finding new and creative ways to get points around the rim.
Other points of emphasis will be protecting the paint and trying to get an edge over the Grizzlies on the boards. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league, ranking sixth in total rebounds, and their big men are going to be a problem for the Spurs.
The term ‘unicorn’ is thrown around a lot when discussing versatile big men but Jaren Jackson is one of the few who is truly deserving of the term. He’s a force inside and also stretches his game well beyond the 3-point line. As a 39.7 percent 3-point shooter you have to respect his outside game or he’s going to burn you. He’s incredibly athletic as well, whether it’s LaMarcus Aldridge or Jakob Poeltl guarding him the Spurs big guys are going to have their work cut out for them.
The final regular-season game between the two means more than the rest of the Spurs regular-season games given the Grizzlies position in the standings. They’ve got a strong lead on the rest of the field for the 8th seed and San Antonio will need to seize their one chance to close that gap.
Our prediction: Spurs win the final regular-season game
Next: Utah Jazz
San Antonio Spurs v. Utah Jazz
Regular Season Games Played: 2 (San Antonio leads 2-0)
Regular Season Games Left: 2 (Game 4 & Game 5)
Some good news for the San Antonio Spurs is that they get to take on a Utah Jazz team that they’ve already beaten twice this year, and the version of the Jazz they’ll see in Orlando will be without one of it’s best scoring options. Bojan Bogdanovic decided to get season-ending surgery a few weeks ago that will hold him out of the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
It’s hard to overstate just how big of a loss this is for Utah, and how much this helps the Spurs. Bogdanovic started 63 games this year, was second on the team in minutes per night, and fourth in total win shares. He’s a huge part of their success and the Jazz are going to have to get creative in how they try to replicate his production.
San Antonio is going to lean heavily on their backcourt in this matchup. With Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint the drives that DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray lean on so frequently won’t be the best looks. San Antonio will need their shooters to step up.
More good news, Dejounte Murray did have one of his best games of the season against the Jazz earlier this year and could use that to ride into these final two games with a little extra confidence. He finished the last game between these two teams with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. If he can replicate that production in the back to back’s in the fourth and fifth games of this series in Orlando the Spurs should be just fine.
A key player in this matchup will be Bryn Forbes. The Spurs need his shooting, and if he’s hitting it will pull his man out more to open up space inside for DeRozan and Murray to operate. Even with Gobert prowling the paint those two are still going to want to get to their preferred spots. The more space they have to do that the better.
Our prediction: Spurs and Jazz split series 1-1
Next: New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs v. New Orleans Pelicans
Regular Season Games Played: 1 (San Antonio lead 1-0)
Regular Season Games Left: 1 (Game 3)
San Antonio got to play the New Orleans Pelicans during Zion Williamson‘s highly anticipated NBA debut. In that first game, he almost singlehandedly brought the Pelicans back to victory, knocking down four 3-pointers in his limited time on the court. Thankfully San Antonio was able to stave off the comeback and hold on to the victory.
Since then Alvin Gentry and the rest of the Pelicans have only gotten more comfortable playing with their massive rookie. Over the final 19 games of the season, you could see Zion and his teammates begin to build dangerous chemistry that should help them be one of the more dangerous teams among the field of Western Conference squads fighting for that final play-in spot.
One move that the Pelicans have started to build different wrinkles off of is using Zion in transition. From the moment he got drafted you knew this was coming, combining a lob threat who’s the size of an industrial refrigerator with an incredibly talented passer such as Lonzo Ball was always going to lead to something interesting.
Now you can see Zion jog up the floor and either set up for a quick transition post-up (yes that’s a real thing), or fake going for the post-up, turn and fly up for an easy finish off a lob, or if he’s feeling really aggressive he will just dare Lonzo to throw it up and count on being able to elevate over, or finish through, his man. It’s a bet that’s paid off pretty well for him thus far.
They still have an All-Star in Brandon Ingram who can take over a game on his own, as well as one of the best defensive point guards in the league in Jrue Holiday, not to mention a deadeye sniper and seasoned playoff veteran with JJ Reddick. They’re going to be a tough team to beat, regardless of the opponent, and you know they’re hungry to get that final playoff spot and set up a first-round series with the Lakers.
Our prediction: New Orleans wins the final regular-season game
Next: Sacramento Kings
San Antonio Spurs v. Sacramento Kings
Regular Season Games Played: 2 (Series split 1-1)
Regular Season Games Left: 1 (Game 7)
From the month of February through the point when the regular season was suspended the Sacramento Kings were quietly one of the hottest teams in the league. They weren’t on Sports Center every night but they were rattling off respectable win after respectable win on the way to a 10-6 record from February 1st on.
One of those wins was a 122-102 beatdown of the Spurs in Sacramento in early February. Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield cooked San Antonio, scoring a combined 56 points. Moving Hield to the bench has been a great play for Sacramento. He’s comfortable leading the second on his own and has the scoring punch from outside to pull the Kings back into games when necessary.
Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker are going to need to be at their defensive best in this final game between the two teams. Between Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and De’Aaron Fox the Kings multiple guards who can get hot and blow a lead wide open. Slowing down Fox has to be the first and foremost thing that one of White or Murray takes on.
On offense, San Antonio should consider running things through LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s still a potent scorer on the right night and the Kings don’t have anyone who can match up with him consistently. He can carry San Antonio to a win in this game if they feed him early and often.
This game is going to be crucial for San Antonio. If both these squads are still in the running for the 8th or 9th spot by this point in the regular season getting full game swing on a close competitor could be just the deciding edge that one of these teams needs to slide into the postseason.
Our Prediction: Spurs win the final regular-season game
Next: Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs v. Philadelphia 76ers
Regular Season Games Played: 1 (Philadelphia leads 1-0)
Regular Season Games Left: 1 (Game 8)
The San Antonio Spurs got a fair amount of luck in their remaining regular-season games. They don’t face any dominant teams like the Bucks or Lakers, get a few comfortable matchups with teams they’ve beaten before, and play teams they’re directly competing with for those 8th and 9th seeds. Their only stroke of bad luck is having to face a 76ers team that handily spanked them earlier this year.
The 114-105 box score doesn’t look too bad but it took a 22 point effort from Rudy Gay to keep it that close and it didn’t look like the 76ers were giving it their all down the stretch run. It seemed like they knew they had the win in hand and were just trying to hang on, not trying to blow the Spurs out.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can create matchup problems for any team they face but particularly for the Spurs. Jakob Poeltl will have his work cut out for him if he can’t slow down Embiid the Spurs don’t really have a chance of pulling out a win here.
One path to victory could be playing Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes extra minutes and hoping they get hot and start torching the Sixers from deep. San Antonio is already going to be undersized, accepting that and trying to get as many shooters on the court could be a path to success. But it could also have the opposite effect. Mills and Forbes won’t be able to guard Josh Richardson or Simmons, playing those two too much could result in the Spurs getting bullied out on the wings.
It’s a very tough matchup, one that the Spurs aren’t likely to win. We just have to hope that San Antonio has locked in a spot in the play-in series enough that a loss to the Sixers won’t take them out of it.
Our Prediction: Philadelphia wins the final regular-season game
If everything shakes out according to our prediction the San Antonio Spurs will go 4-4 over their final eight games. A fine record given the level of competition, but it probably won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs.