Race for the Playoffs - Are We In? Who might we play?

My original thinking was for this post to be a referendum on how losing Tony Parker wasn’t the end of the world and that the Spurs would be just fine in his absence. I had a lot of good points about Hill getting more minutes (which he has earned), Manu’s resurgence (as only Manu can do), our not trading Mason Jr. (thankfully), RJ being able to get more touches (hopefully continuing his solid play and riding that into the Playoffs), and the fact that a few weeks of resting will be beneficial for Tony and his plethora of leg injuries. But I decided to go in a different direction. Mainly because all I’ve heard recently from every expert who has a microphone or computer in front of them is that the Spurs have a murderous schedule ahead of them, that they used their home-friendly and cupcake schedule to arrive at their current record, and that they will be lucky to hold onto a playoff spot. And then now with Tony out, things have gone from grim to bleak. Now while those statements are certainly up for debate, I’m more concerned about looking forward. And as I’ve learned from reading PTR, nothing gets your point across like numbers and statistics. So I decided to take a look at our “killer schedule” and see just how bad it could get. And just for fun, to compare that with 5 other teams who are with us in the Playoff chase.

Fact: The Spurs play some very tough opponents in the closing months of the season.

But what do the schedules of the teams they are fighting with for a Playoff spot look like. Here’s a breakdown of the remaining schedules for the Spurs, OKC Thunder, Blazers (teams currently in the top 8 of the Western Conference) and the Grizzlies, Rockets, and Hornets (teams on the outside of the top 8 who have a legitimate shot at making the Playoffs). For each team I have included the following: total number of games remaining, the amount of home/away games, home/away records, above/below .500 records, and opponents. From there, I broke the games down into 3 categories: games the team should win (against non-playoff teams), games the team should lose (against the current top 4 seeds in each conference), and most importantly, games that are up in the air – or swing games (against other teams fighting for the playoffs). **(For the breakdown of the categories, I did not take into consideration if the game was home or away. I assumed that a game against the Nets would be a win on the road or at home, just as much as a game against the Lakers would be a loss either place)**

Spurs: Current record 36–24 22-10 Home 14-14 Road

22 Games left (7 W/10 L/5 SG) 9 Home 13 Road

14-21 above .500 22-3 below .500

Wins – NYK, @Minn, LAC, GS, @NJN, @Sac, Minn

Losses - @Cle, @Orl, LAL, Cle, @Atl, @Bos, Orl, @LAL, @Den, @Dal

Swing - @Mia, @OKC, Hou, @Phx, Mem

OKC Thunder: Current record 37–24 19-11 Home 18-13 Road

20 Games left (5 W/6 L/ 9 SG) 11 Home 9 Road

16-21 above .500 21-3 below .500

Wins- NJN, @Indy, @Philly, Minn, @GS

Losses- Utah, LAL, @Bos, @Dal, @Utah, @Den

Swing- NO, @Char, @Tor, SA, Hou, Port, Phx, @Port, Mem

Portland: Current record: 37-27 20-13 Home 17-14 Road

18 Games Left (8 W/5 L/5 SG) 8 Home 10 Away

19-21 above .500 18-6 below .500

Wins- Sac, @GS, @Sac, Wash, NYK, @Sac, @LAC, GS

Losses- @Den, Dal, @Den, Dal, @LAL

Swing- Tor, @Phx, @NO, @OKC, OKC

Memphis: Current record: 32-21 18-14 Home 14-17 Road

19 Games left (6 W/6 L/7 SG) 9 Home 10 Away

16-21 above .500 16-10 below .500

Wins- NJN, NYK, GS, @Sac, @GS, Philly

Losses- @Bos, Den, Dal, @Orl, @Dal, @Den

Swing- Chi, @Hou, @Mil, NO, Hou, @SA, @OKC

Houston: Current record: 31-31 17-14 Home 14-17 Road

20 Games left (7 W/5 L/8 SG) 10 Home 10 Away

17-23 above .500 14-8 below .500

Wins- @Wash, NJN, @NYK, LAC, Wash, @Indy, @Sac

Losses- Den, Bos, LAL, @Bos, Utah

Swing- Mem, @Chi, OKC, @SA, @Mem, Char, @Phx, NO

New Orleans: Current record: 31-32 19-11 Home 18-13 Road

19 Games left (6 W/7 L/6 SG) 10 Home 9 Away

15-26 above .500 16-6 below .500

Wins- GS, @LAC, @GS, Wash, @NJN, Minn

Losses- Den, @Den, @Uta, Dal, Cle, LAL, Utah

Swing- @OKC, @Phx, Port, @Mem, Char, @Hou

Potential Final Records:

OKC 42-30 with 9 Swing games

SA 43-34 with 5 Swing games

Port 45-32 with 5 Swing games

Mem 38-37 with 7 Swing games

Hou 38-36 with 8 Swing games

NO 37-39 with 6 Swing games

So what the heck does all this mean? Well, it could honestly mean nothing and be just a huge waste of time. But I did think this provided at least an indicator of how things might go. Obviously any team can win/lose on a given night against any opponent, but thought this was a good starting point. A few other things did stand out to me.

- Portland looks strong to finish the season ahead of the Spurs, which could move SA to the 8 seed and a potential showdown with the Lakers

- I didn’t realize the Spurs had played so few games in comparison to other NBA teams. So it’s not necessarily just the "toughness" factor of their remaining games, but also the sheer volume.

- The Spurs by far (using my criteria) have the highest amount of potential losses on their upcoming schedule with 10. The next closest is NO, with 7. And we all assume NO is not going to make much of a run at the playoffs with Paul out.

- The Spurs also have the fewest number of swing games left on their schedule, tied with Portland at 5. And I think everyone assumes Portland will make the playoffs.

- Of the teams out of the current top 8, the Rockets seem to hold the most intrigue, having 8 potential swing games remaining (including 2 against Memphis, and 1 against both NO and SA).

- Of the teams in the current top 8, OKC has the most swing games, and actually the most swing games overall with 9. So it will be interesting to see if a young team on the brink of their first playoff run can hold onto their playoff spot with the pressure mounting.

- The Spurs have the most road games remaining with 13. And with only 9 home games, has the biggest road/home differential at -4. But it’s not as big of a difference as one would assume. OKC has a difference of +2, NO has a difference of +1, Houston is even, and both Portland and Memphis have negative differences at -2 and -1.

Taking all that into consideration, I don’t feel as bad about the Spurs remaining schedule. They have things tough, especially without Parker, but so do the rest of the teams in the playoff hunt. And if those numbers weren’t enough, one remaining thing stands out to me. All of these teams are flawed. Portland is still without its 2 starting centers. OKC is young and has no real playoff experience. Memphis is an up and down team with a lot of younger players who haven’t made a playoff run. Same with Houston, who is also trying to incorporate new guys into their rotation. And New Orleans is without Chris Paul and struggling to find scorers to help out David West.

So take heart Spurs fans. The night is always darkest before the first light. And hopefully the dark nights of this last month and a half will lead to the light of a new playoff run.

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