On February 16th, the San Antonio Spurs announced several players tested positive for COVID-19 after their 122-110 victory in Charlotte. As a result, the NBA promptly canceled their next three games against the Cavaliers, Knicks, and Pacers. As if that, along with unprecedented severe winter weather in Texas, were not enough, Demar DeRozan received heartbreaking news about his father’s passing only days later.
Not only did DeRozan miss the Spurs’ recent game in Oklahoma City to understandably spend time with his family, but Derrick White, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Quinndary Weatherspoon were forced to sit for several games. Fortunately, Johnson was able to make his return against the Nets on March 1.
The NBA has released the schedule for the second half of the San Antonio Spurs’ regular season, and it will be a challenging race to the finish line, to say the very least. In the wake of these setbacks, the Spurs will be forced to play 40 games in only 68 days, including 11 total back-to-backs.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 24, 2021
With all that being said, their biggest challenge in the second half of the season will come in their final stretch of games in May. Although the Spurs appeared to be finding their rhythm despite recent gut-wrenching losses to the Thunder and the Nets, the road may be very rocky ahead. Here’s what the team will have to deal with in the final month of the season.
The San Antonio Spurs Will Face Several Top Playoff Contenders
In terms of opponents’ current win percentages, the month of May, in particular, will be very unkind to the Spurs. The Spurs will be facing the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Phoenix Suns in May, who currently have a composite win percentage of 60.1.
Besides looking at these teams’ win percentages, nearly all of them have good reason to play at full strength against the Spurs toward the end of the regular season. Looking at the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers, Nets, and Bucks are currently sitting at the first, second, and third seed, respectively. Given that they are all currently within two games of one another, these teams will all likely be competing for home-court advantage beyond the first round of the playoffs.
How much importance each of these teams will place on home-court advantage will likely depend on whether or not fans will be allowed to attend games (and how many). But the fact of the matter is that both the Bucks and 76ers currently have a losing record on the road despite their impressive overall records. For that reason, it would be understandable for at least those two teams to work harder for home-court advantage come May.
The Knicks, on the other hand, as well as the Kings in the Western Conference, will both likely be competing for a spot in the playoffs or, at the very least, a spot in the play-in tournament. Despite their current losing records, it would be unwise to automatically count either one of those games as a win for the Spurs. The game against the Knicks, in particular, may present an unanticipated challenge as it comes on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Brooklyn Nets the night before.
The Trail Blazers and Suns need not be overlooked as well. Portland has already been able to secure a respectable 20-14 record despite not having CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Zach Collins available for a large portion of the season thus far, and they could potentially look much healthier by the time May rolls around.
Phoenix has had their best start to the season in recent memory, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker leading the way. That said, with Devin Booker’s recent All-Star snub (only saved by Anthony Davis’ injury), he and the rest of the Suns team may look to finish the rest of the season with a big chip on their shoulders and something to prove.
The San Antonio Spurs Will Play Four Back-To-Backs in May
Unfortunately, the talent that the San Antonio Spurs will be facing in May is far from being the only concern in the second half of the regular season. It’s no secret that the Spurs have had a great deal of trouble with back-to-back games this season. In fact, Tuesday’s win over the Knicks was their first such victory in five tries.
This will have to change unless the Spurs are ready for the losses to begin stacking up. Four of the 11 total back-to-backs the Spurs will play in the second half of the season come in May alone.
The first of these back-to-backs will undoubtedly be most challenging, facing the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz: both of the current number-1 seeded teams in each conference. While the team as a whole will need to step up for these games in general, the Spurs frontcourt will have the toughest assignment in guarding two of the best big men in the league, Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid. LaMarcus Aldridge, in particular, will have to pick up the pace on defense, or these two games may be over before they even start.
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The second back-to-back against the Kings and Trail Blazers is the most winnable of the four back-to-backs in May, and the Spurs will need to take advantage.
The schedule will only become more difficult from there, and the Spurs would be doing themselves a big favor by going into their next two games against the Bucks and Nets coming off a couple of quality wins.
While the second night of the Spurs’ third back-to-back in May comes against a mediocre Knicks team, I fully expect for the Spurs to look and feel gassed after having to play a stacked Brooklyn Nets team the night before, assuming Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving will all be active that night.
A win against the Knicks is still very manageable, as the Spurs just proved, but the Spurs’ big names will have to perform well that night and do everything in their power to stop the All-Star reserve, Julius Randle.
The Spurs’ final back-to-back in May, also being their last two regular-season games, will come against the Phoenix Suns. While the Spurs will have to perform well to stop Devin Booker, there is no doubt in my mind that the X-factor for the Suns on those two nights will be Chris Paul, who has been a notorious Spurs killer in the past.
Phoenix has several talented young players capable of doing some serious damage on any given night, and the Spurs will need to be careful not to ease up on the likes of Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson.
The San Antonio Spurs are fully capable of overcoming such challenges. Still, given their remaining schedule, it will take a healthy roster, hard work, and smart Spurs basketball to earn a playoff spot in an increasingly competitive Western Conference.