Ranking the 3 Most Important Spurs for a Huge Play-In Win

Jose Alvarado, Dejounte Murray
Jose Alvarado, Dejounte Murray / Sean Gardner/GettyImages
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Only the San Antonio Spurs can determine if their season will extend beyond Wednesday, as they face a loser-goes-home game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

It's an unexpected result considering the Spurs were expected to win just 28.5 games according to preseason odds. Now playing with house money in a rebuilding season in which they were expected to be bottom-feeders, Gregg Popovich's squad has a chance to er surprise NBA audiences on national TV for the first time all season.

"It was our goal to make the play-in game," said Jakob Poeltl once the Spurs clinched a spot in the tournament. "I don't think we're satisfied yet. We want to take those opportunities and win those games and make it to the playoffs."

No matter where you stand on if this roster should try sneaking into the playoffs as a severe underdog, the guys themselves have made their intentions clear, so now it's time to look at just how they might make that happen.

Obviously, a full team effort will be needed to come out on top in game one of the tournament, but these three guys will be especially crucial in an upset bid. From least to most important, let's get into it.

San Antonio Spurs
Keldon Johnson, Jonathan Kuminga / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

3. Keldon Johnson

It's hard to really describe what Keldon Johnson has done this season with one word or phrase. It's not really a surprise, because I think everyone saw his potential to improve last season. But his meteoric ascension in draining outside shots is something probably no one but him saw coming.

We also can't really say his drastic improvement was expected, because he's expanded so many facets of his game that were lacking, such as his court vision on drives and outside shooting, in just 82 games.

However he got to where he is now, the Spurs really need him to continue that tear on Wednesday. He's taken the throne as the most reliable scorer other than Dejounte Murray, and his effort level on the glass will especially be crucial against a top three offensive rebounding team.

The Pelicans managed to hold Keldon below his average rebounds in the first two meetings, but his eight rebounds in the Spurs' latest victory over them were crucial. Between guys like Jonas Valanciunas and Willy Hernangomez, New Orleans thrives on second-chance points, and that simply can't be the case here.

The big x-factor in this one will be Keldon's 3-point shot and whether he can open up the court for himself and others by knocking down a few of those early. When he's got that going, that opens up what he's still best at: getting to the rim.