While the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff teams are close to becoming locked in, the race for the postseason in the Western Conference has only intensified in recent weeks.
The Rockets and Warriors have a stranglehold on the top two seeds and are in no danger of missing the playoffs. The Trail Blazers, winners of 10 straight games, have been one of the league’s hottest teams and currently have a small cushion for the No. 3 seed. After Portland, the Thunder, Pelicans, and Timberwolves round out the top six.
A game and a half behind Minnesota and New Orleans, four teams are currently tied in the standings, with the Clippers (36-29) holding a slight edge over the Jazz (37-30), Nuggets (37-30), and Spurs (37-30). Based on current tiebreakers, Denver and San Antonio are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, for now.
The Spurs’ spot in the standings isn’t a huge surprise — the team has been without All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games, and outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, the rest of the roster isn’t exactly brimming with star power. It makes sense that the club has struggled. Still, the Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997, so one of the sport’s most impressive streaks is in danger of coming to an end this spring.
The Spurs are coming off a brutal stretch of the schedule which saw them play road games in Golden State, Oklahoma City, and Houston. The team lost all three of those of those contests, and things won’t get much easier down the stretch.
According to Tankathon.com, the Spurs have the NBA’s fifth-hardest schedule for the rest of the season, with games against the Rockets, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Thunder, Timberwolves, Wizards, Jazz, Bucks, and Pelicans (twice) still on tap. For their part, the Spurs veterans know that they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to extend their streak of postseason experiences.
“Been winning for a lot of years,” Tony Parker said on Monday, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve made eight conference finals, five NBA Finals. We’ve been winning a lot. But this year, there’s been a lot of injuries. We just have to find a way to try to qualify for the playoffs.”
Of those injuries alluded to by Parker, Leonard’s quad issue has been the most devastating, but there’s a chance the Spurs will get him back in their lineup later this week. While a meeting with Gregg Popovich will determine whether Leonard’s return is imminent, he’s aiming to get back on the court on Thursday. (Update: he’ll be out through Thursday).
Having a healthy, productive Leonard available down the stretch would improve San Antonio’s playoff chances significantly, but it remains to be seen how effective the star forward can be in the season’s final weeks.
What do you think? Is this the year the Spurs’ playoff streak comes to an end, or will they find a way to extend it to 21 straight appearances? Vote below in our poll and then jump into the comment section below to weigh in!
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