At this point last season, the San Antonio Spurs were the ninth seed in the Western Conference with a 17-22 record. After Saturday’s loss to the Bucks, they’re now the inverse of that record with 22 wins and 17 losses.
While things would only go further south for a broken Spurs squad last season, this season’s team would need a total collapse to not at least be fighting for a playoff seed come May. With 33 games left in the season, San Antonio will need to finish at least 10th in the Western Conference to have a chance to play into the playoffs. As of Sunday morning, they’re six games ahead of the 11th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (17-24).
Still, the Spurs and Grizzlies have more games left than every other team due to their COVID-19 issues causing postponed games. San Antonio also has the second-toughest remaining schedule in the league (53.2%), with the final month of the season being the toughest of all.
With 54 percent of the season in the books, now is the time to examine where the San Antonio Spurs are likely to end up with the postseason looming in May. Let’s take a look at where the Silver and Black will likely finish when all is said and done.
Next: Chances to avoid the play-in
Assessing the San Antonio Spurs’ chances of avoiding the play-in
Unlike last season, this year’s play-in will include the 10th seed from each conference in the tournament.
In this season’s scenario, the ninth seed will host the tenth seed for a chance to play the loser of a matchup between the seventh and eighth seeds. The lower seed will then have to defeat that team twice in a row to leapfrog them into the playoffs as number eight, while the higher seed can clinch with one victory.
Here’s how it breaks down, via NBA.com:
— Josh Paredes (@Josh810) March 20, 2021
Knowing this, the magic number for San Antonio is six. If going by the pace of the current sixth seed, the Portland Trail Blazers, that means they’d need to end the season with a record of roughly 44-28. Extending that over the rest of the season, they’ll need to go 22-11 over the last 33 to all-but-guarantee they have a straight shot at the playoffs.
The teams that’ll likely be in the way of the sixth seed are the Clippers, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, and Warriors. Here’s how the remaining strength of schedule breaks down for each of these teams (a higher percentage means the schedule is tougher).
Blazers – 52.6 (3rd-toughest in NBA) Clippers – 49.7 (15th) Nuggets – 48.5 (24th) Warriors – 47.6 (27th) Mavericks – 46.6 (30th)
The Spurs will need to contend with the fact that they have a monster schedule full of back-to-backs while the Nuggets, Warriors, and Mavericks have three of the easiest schedules remaining in the league. As usual, every single game will have a tremendous impact on the Spurs’ destiny.
This team is certainly capable of leaping one of these teams to capture sixth, but given their uphill battle of a schedule, I’m inclined to say the odds are slightly less than 50-50 at this point.
Next: Chances of missing the tournament
Assessing the San Antonio Spurs’ chances of missing the play-in tournament
You never know what’ll happen in the NBA, but I’d be shocked if the Spurs missed out on a shot to get into the playoffs altogether. They just have to not finish in the bottom third of the Western Conference to get their chance.
Looking at the standings out West, we can safely eliminate the Houston Rockets and Timberwolves from contention. The Wolves are last at 10-32, while Houston, who was once 11-10, is now 11-29 in the middle of a 19-game losing streak.
This means the teams San Antonio has to beat out to make the play-in in a worst-case scenario are the New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sacramento Kings. As of Sunday morning, the Pelicans and Thunder are 17-24 while the Kings are 17-25. Since a potential tiebreaker starts with who wins head-to-head games, let’s see how each matchup has broken down so far.
Spurs vs. Pelicans: Series tied 1-1, final meeting April 21st @ New Orleans Spurs vs. Thunder: Thunder won series 2-1 Spurs vs. Kings: All 3 games still to be played, March 29th & 31st in SA, May 7th @ Sacramento
San Antonio has seven fewer losses than the Pelicans and Thunder and eight fewer losses than the Kings, so they would need some combination of losing a flurry of games and one or more of those teams getting hot to be in any kind of danger. I don’t see a tiebreak scenario being needed, but you never know in today’s league.
Still, the Spurs have to stay focused on what’s gotten them where they are so far to avoid slipping into a situation where they need help from other teams.
With fans back at the AT&T Center, the upcoming nine-game homestand will be critical for playoff positioning. The Spurs would be wise to take full advantage of the opportunity.