Will Spurs' COVID Breakout Be Another Knockout Punch?

Derrick White, Donovan Mitchell, Keldon Johnson
Derrick White, Donovan Mitchell, Keldon Johnson / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

There's no denying COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the San Antonio Spurs for the 2020-21 season, and it's back for round two.

Boasting a respectable 16-11 record last February, suddenly the Silver and Black were hit with several positive cases and had to put Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Derrick White into health and safety protocols. Their multiple postponed games then led to a second half of the season that included 11 back-to-backs and a ridiculous travel schedule.

As you'd expect, the Spurs weren't able to recover and finished the season 33-39, losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game.

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself, as Johnson, Vassell, and White entered health and safety protocols again on Thursday along with Thaddeus Young. On Friday afternoon, Tre Jones joined them.

As a result, the Spurs signed Anthony Lamb and Tyler Johnson to 10-day hardship contracts. As it stands, they will be short-handed for at least the next few games, which include matchups against the 76ers, Nets, and Knicks.

It's a frustrating situation that seemed inevitable, but will it have the same season-killing effect it did last year? I'm not so sure.

The Western Conference is forgiving this season

Perhaps due to a multiple similar outbreaks, the West has been pretty bad this season. Last year, the top nine teams in the conference all had winning seasons. As of Friday, the Denver Nuggets sit at seventh with an 18-18 record.

Even with a relatively poor 15-22 record, the Spurs are still in play-in tournament range and three games behind the eighth spot. The missing personnel will likely send San Antonio further down the standings this month, but it's not like the teams below them are setting the league on fire either.

The four teams the Spurs will likely have to contend with for the 10th spot in the West are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, and New Orleans Pelicans. They still have three matchup apiece with the Blazers and Pelicans left this season, which will be crucial in a bid for a third straight play-in opportunity.

If we assume the worst-case scenario and say the Spurs lose their next four games without three of their starters, that puts San Antonio at 15-26. That would still have them at a 36.5% win mark, good for 13th in the West currently.

A realistic date for the Spurs to be closer to full strength would be Friday, January 14th against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That game will be the second of seven straight home games that could help them get back on track, even if they'll continue to face tough opponents.

There's no question these protocols will be a setback for San Antonio in the short term, but with a quicker turnaround and hopefully fewer postponed games, it shouldn't be nearly as bad as last season.

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Then again, the Omicron variant doesn't seem to be done quite yet. Everybody keep your fingers crossed.