San Antonio Spurs playoff push continues against Philadelphia 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 22: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the basketball over Tobias Harris #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter of a game at the Wells Fargo Center on November 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cameron Pollack/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 22: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the basketball over Tobias Harris #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter of a game at the Wells Fargo Center on November 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cameron Pollack/Getty Images) /
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The San Antonio Spurs continue their surprising push for a playoff spot

When the San Antonio Spurs entered the bubble they came in with relatively low expectations. Down two key starters, coaches and players repeatedly talked about the importance of using the final eight regular-season games to focus on development, rather than a true playoff push. Leaders like Dejounte Murray would reiterate that the team was still going out and trying to win games, but player development was the main goal.

Now, two games in, the San Antonio Spurs are undefeated in the bubble and fully in the thick of the playoff chase. It’s been a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one nonetheless. Led by a quartet of young perimeter players, one rising star of a big man, and a battle-tested bucket getter, the Spurs are beating expectations and looking good doing it.

The first win against the Kings was almost expected but the next contest against the Grizzlies truly tested the Spurs. Only DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game heroics saved the team and their playoff dreams. Next up is the Philadelphia 76ers and their supersized frontcourt. What do the Spurs have to do to keep their winning streak alive?

Beating the Philadelphia 76ers is crucial to San Antonio Spurs playoff hopes

Before entering the bubble, ESPN gave the San Antonio Spurs a measly 2.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. With their two recent wins and a couple of key losses by teams ahead of them in the standings, the Spurs are now just two games back of Memphis for the eighth seed. A recent Ringer article gives them a 31 percent chance of being part of a play-in series and a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Today’s slate of games is massively important. A Spurs win, along with Grizzlies’ loss against the Pelicans, would be a great swing in the Spurs favor. But the Spurs haven’t done well against the 76ers this season even when they had their full roster of big men, how will they do now that they’re so shorthanded?

Philadelphia is sure to come into this one with a chip on their shoulders. After blowing a nice fourth-quarter lead and giving up a 50 burger to T.J. Warren, the 76ers have all the motivation they need to try to right their ship.

A major point of focuses will be for Jakob Poeltl to limit his fouls and stay on the court for as long as possible tonight. He fouled out after almost 21 minutes of play on Sunday, forcing the Spurs to lean more on Drew Eubanks and even deploy Rudy Gay as a small-ball center at times. That might work against Memphis but it’ll be hard to sustain against Joel Embiid.

The Spurs can win this one by pushing the pace and taking advantage of the 76ers on the perimeter. Philadelphia has solid defenders in Shake Milton and Josh Richardson but Warren and the Pacers showed us that you can still beat them on the edges if a few guys can get hot. Given how well Derrick White has been stroking the long ball over the last two games – he’s made 7 of his 17 3-point attempts so far-  he looks like the prime candidate to have a huge game.

If the Spurs can win the turnover battle it’ll be huge for their chances. They were extremely sloppy with the basketball in their scrimmages, nearly doubling their turnover averages from the regular season, but have since reined it in and given up 15.5 turnovers per game over the first two contests. Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson have done a great job of jumping passing lanes and creating easy opportunities for the Spurs so far, their ability to keep that going will be key for San Antonio.

Derrick White’s case for an NBA All-Defensive Team. Next

The talking heads at the major networks would much rather see Portland, New Orleans, or Memphis in the eighth seed but that won’t slow the San Antonio Spurs down on their quest to play spoilers. Their hot streak can continue tonight at 7 pm CST.

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