San Antonio Spurs smoothly balancing playoff hopes & player development

San Antonio Spurs Keldon Johnson Derrick White Patty Mills (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Keldon Johnson Derrick White Patty Mills (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs have done a great job of juggling their two critical goals

I’ll be the first to admit it when the San Antonio Spurs went into the bubble I didn’t think they had a chance in hell of making the playoffs. Down two crucial starters with LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles out, it was hard to envision a team that had struggled all year making a legitimate push for their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance.

Given the Spurs struggles throughout the season, some of us were fine with them missing the playoffs if it meant switching away from the boring rotations they had used for months and embracing the fast-paced style of play their young guys were made for.

Now, as we approach the final game of the regular season, the Spurs are a hair back of the three teams competing for the final two spots in the Western Conference play-in and they didn’t have to sacrifice their emphasis on player development to get there. They’ve balanced contention and planning for the future as smoothly as any of us could have hoped and Gregg Popovich and the players on this team deserve their recognition.

San Antonio Spurs have ridden their young players back into the playoff race

Thanks to a crucial win against the Houston Rockets yesterday, a win that saw Keldon Johnson erupt and make his mark on the larger NBA landscape, the San Antonio Spurs now sit at 32-38, with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies tied above them at 33-39, and Portland Trail Blazers slightly ahead at 34-39.

A quick aside on the Blazers –  if the Spurs do miss the playoffs, we’re putting a small amount of the blame at the feet of Patrick Beverley and Paul George. Do you see what happens when you piss Dame off? He drops 51 points, follows it up with 61, and puts his team in the driver’s seat for the eighth seed. Unbelievable.

This final slate of games is going to be wild. There are still ways for the Spurs to make the playoffs but it won’t be easy. Here are the scenarios to watch for during the final games of the regular season.

San Antonio Spurs get 8th seed if:

  • San Antonio beats Utah AND

  • Memphis loses to Milwaukee, Phoenix loses to Dallas, and Portland loses to Brooklyn

San Antonio Spurs get 9th seed if:

  • San Antonio beats Utah

  • Memphis loses to Milwaukee

  • One of Phoenix losing to Dallas or Portland losing to Brooklyn happens

Not impossible, but not a sure thing by any stretch. We’re all Spurs fans tomorrow, but we’re also rooting for the Bucks, Mavericks, and Nets.

The Spurs hold most of their fate in their own hands. They don’t have a route to the postseasons that doesn’t involve them getting past the Utah Jazz. Thankfully, that’s a team they’ve seen twice in the first part of the season and once in the bubble and have won all three games against. Additionally, the Jazz already have their playoff spot locked up. Outside of their own pride, they don’t have too much to play for and that could end up affecting their play.

If the Spurs are going to make the playoffs they’re going to have to follow the same script they’ve been running off of for the past two weeks. Play fast, rebound, shoot the three, rely on the young guys as much as possible, and turn the ball over to DeMar DeRozan if things get tight down the stretch. It’s a proven recipe that has worked wonders so far.

Keldon Johnson proving he’s the prize of Kawhi Leonard trade. Next

Does making the playoffs really matter? Frankly, not really. Whether they end up in the lottery or matched up with the Lakers in the first round makes no huge difference in the long term. But no matter how things shake out tomorrow, the San Antonio Spurs should be proud of how they’ve been able to smoothly balance getting their young players the minutes they needed while also putting together an impressive turnaround.