Apr 24, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) talks to head coach Gregg Popovich during the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs once daunting schedule is looking less intimidating lately
For weeks now, we’ve been talking about how challenging the remainder of the San Antonio Spurs season schedule is, and for good reason. But maybe we’ve been overdoing it just a bit.
As it stands today, the Spurs have the toughest rest of season schedule in the NBA according to Tankathon. Here is a brief look at who they’ve got on deck over the next two and a half weeks: Celtics, Heat, 76ers, Jazz (x2), Kings, Blazers, Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Suns (x2). Altogether, their game against the Kings marks the only time they’ll face an opponent under .500 for the rest of the season.
Compounding the difficulties presented by the schedule is the recent injury to Derrick White. The Spurs dynamic two-way guard had to be helped off the court in Washington after twisting his ankle and no timetable has been set for his return. It’s a tough loss for the Spurs and an even tougher blow to a player who had finally been hitting his stride after overcoming numerous obstacles this season.
Still, the San Antonio Spurs are in a good position to make the play-in tournament and if they really step up, could miss the tournament entirely and head straight to the playoffs. I’m not expecting them to go undefeated but their once intimidating end-of-season schedule is looking a lot more manageable now and here are three reasons why.
San Antonio Spurs recent wins have given them some breathing room
After plummeting during the later bits of March and into April, the San Antonio Spurs have turned things around recently. Thanks to an improved defense and some stellar clutch play from DeMar DeRozan they’ve won five of their last six.
All that winning has given the Spurs just enough breathing room that slipping out of the play-in tournament looks fairly unlikely at this point. They’re four and a half games in front of the Pelicans now and barring another long losing streak – which isn’t a complete impossibility, mind you – they should at the very least, be contending for one of the final two playoff spots.
On the other side of things, their recent bout of winning has put them just two and a half games behind the Dallas Mavericks for ownership of the sixth spot. Could the Spurs stretch this thing out and make the playoffs outright? It’s not impossible, but it sure won’t be easy.
While San Antonio faces what is projected to be the toughest remaining schedule in the league, the Mavericks have the 3rd easiest. Another team standing between the Spurs and Mavericks is the Memphis Grizzlies who have the easiest remaining schedule in the league.
So while the Spurs are looking increasingly likely to make the play-in, their chances of making the playoffs straight up aren’t looking great. In any case, the recent wins have given them the breathing room they need to comfortably focus on the task at hand without worrying about heading straight to the lottery.
Next: Other teams stumbling
Apr 27, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) and forward Darius Bazley (7) defend against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) in the fourth quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs upcoming opponents have been stumbling
While the San Antonio Spurs have been building momentum, some of the teams they’ll face over the next two weeks have been stumbling. This contrast in momentum plays perfectly into the Spurs’ hands.
The two teams I want to highlight are the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers. San Antonio faces Boston on Friday and frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for the Spurs.
The Celtics have underwhelmed us all year long but their most recent loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was particularly putrid. They shot just 22 percent from behind the arc and got demolished inside, giving up 51 rebounds while only pulling down 36. The end result was a loss to a team that is actively tanking.
This isn’t the only bad loss the Celtics have had recently. They’ve also been rolled over by the Hornets and the Bulls in the past two weeks. A team that many had as title contenders before the season looks awfully beatable right now.
Meanwhile, the Blazers can’t defend a street cone. They’ve allowed the ninth most points per game in the NBA over their last ten games. Portland was always going to try to win by simply outscoring opponents but they’ve only got a middle-of-the-pack offense right now. They’ve scored just 0.4 more points per contest than the Spurs over the last ten games while the Spurs have allowed 5.6 fewer points per game over that same span.
Judging purely by star power, many pundits would pick Portland or Boston to beat San Antonio. But they would be wrong. These upcoming games against these two teams are looking very winnable for San Antonio.
Next: Running into resting teams at the perfect time
Mar 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) shoots in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs can benefit from other teams resting players late
As most NBA fans are aware, injuries have decimated the league this season. Star players such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Jamal Murray have all missed extended time after getting hurt and while the raw data doesn’t say that injuries are happening at a higher rate this season than they have in the past, you can’t blame teams for being cautious as we approach the playoffs.
This is where a schedule full of opponents locked into the playoffs might actually help the Spurs. San Antonio is fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the play-in but other teams are focused solely on making it into the playoffs with their rosters intact.
Four of the Spurs’ last five games come against the Bucks, Nets, and Suns. Do you really think that any one of those teams are going to be going 100 percent full speed give it everything you’ve got that late in the season? Those are legitimate title-contending teams, I expect to see some resting from them. Especially from the veteran-laden Nets and Bucks.
To be clear, I don’t think the Spurs are going to be facing G-League lineups in mid-May but I don’t think they’re in for 48 minutes of the Giannis experience either. Given all of the injuries we’ve seen and the aspirations of their opponents, I think the Spurs are going to have an easier go of it than we might have originally expected in the last week of the schedule.
It’s still not going to be easy, no games in the NBA are, but the rest of the season might not be as tough for the San Antonio Spurs as we once had thought.