It’s been a rough week for the San Antonio Spurs and other teams alike. The NBA has had to deal with numerous COVID-19 cases and tracing protocol interferences — something that unfortunately caught up to the Spurs on Tuesday. On top of that, injuries have been especially prevalent in the league this season, with a recent case being that of Lakers superstar Anthony Davis.
In a Valentine’s Day loss to the Denver Nuggets, Anthony Davis left the game with a strained calf, initially expected to miss 2-3 weeks. After Friday’s loss to Brooklyn, the news got worse, as Head Coach Frank Vogel said Davis was re-evaluated and is now expected to miss at least four weeks. The Lakers also played without point guard Dennis Schroder on Thursday, who was ruled out for health and safety protocol reasons and could miss more upcoming games.
While Los Angeles is built for the playoffs and should be seen as the clear favorite to win another NBA title, the loss of Davis for a month in a shortened season could have several seeding implications for a Spurs team looking to make a return to the postseason.
Next: Implications for the Spurs
What the Anthony Davis injury means for the San Antonio Spurs
As the Spurs await the resumption of their season, they’re sitting at sixth in the Western Conference with a 16-11 record. As has been the case for most of the season, seeds four through eight are separated by a thin margin at just three games between the five teams.
In a direct sense, the injury won’t impact the Spurs much. San Antonio already had three games against the Lakers, so they won’t be playing them during their stretch without Davis. I also wouldn’t hold my breath that LeBron James will allow the Lakers to slip anywhere lower than the third seed in the West, so catching up to them in the standings is highly unlikely.
Indirectly, however, the Lakers could impact the Spurs’ place in the standing in a few ways. Los Angeles concludes the first half of their season by playing four teams in the top 12 of the Western Conference, including three currently in the playoff picture.
On February 26th, the Lakers will begin a three-game homestand featuring the Portland Trail Blazers (18-10), Golden State Warriors (16-13), and Phoenix Suns (17-10). As of Friday morning, these teams are fourth, seventh, and fifth, respectively — surrounding the Spurs’ sixth-place spot from both sides.
The Lakers only managed to score 98 points and didn’t look like themselves against Brooklyn Thursday, which could bode well for some of the Spurs’ competition as the All-Star break nears. While the impact is low, every game counts in a conference where you can fall from fourth to seventh with a single loss.
Next: Playoff implications
Playoff implications for the San Antonio Spurs
Apart from potentially helping teams the Spurs might be competing with, the loss of Davis could give a team like the LA Clippers a chance to leap the Lakers in the standings. The Clippers are currently one game behind the 22-8 Lakers at 21-9 and have eight games remaining to the Lakers’ seven.
The Lakers also have the toughest strength of schedule remaining in the league according to Tankathon, so the loss of Davis only makes them even more susceptible to slipping down. So, what could this mean for the Spurs?
Ideally, San Antonio would like to avoid the Lakers for as long as possible if they make the playoffs (as does everyone). Assuming a playoff berth, my estimation for where they’ll finish in the standings is as follows:
4th: Best-case scenario 5th-6th: Most likely scenario 7th-8th: Worst-case scenario (play-in tournament required)
If San Antonio can snag the fourth or fifth seed and the Lakers are unable to secure the top spot in the West, the two teams wouldn’t meet until the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs would also avoid the Lakers if they fell to eighth while the Lakers ended up second or third in the West. However, this would come with the added pressure of coming out of a play-in tournament.
The bottom line? Finishing in the bottom three gives the Spurs the highest odds of facing the Lakers in the first round. As simple as it sounds, San Antonio just needs to keep finding ways to keep winning to increase their chances of avoiding another first-round flameout.
The Spurs have surprised many already this season. As they stand idle waiting to clear safety protocols, they could use some help from a shorthanded Lakers team as they continue to fight to, well, avoid them in the future.