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Projecting the rest of the Spurs' regular season

In 1999-00, a defending-champion Spurs team won 53 games and never really competed for a repeat. Can the 2014-15 Spurs do any better?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The worst part of the Spurs' schedule is over, as you may have heard, but that doesn't mean clear sailing  just yet. For one thing, they aren't close to fully healthy, and the extra minutes put on the calcifying knees of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are racking up interest like a January credit card statement. And while the schedule does get easier in 2015, there are still the usual speed bumps to contend with, including nine SEGABABAs, the Rodeo Road Trip, and nasty stretches in March and April which, on paper, look awfully similar to the December From Hell. Did I mention we still don't have any idea when Kawhi Leonard is coming back?

I'm not going to mince words here, so you might as well know that it doesn't look great in terms of the Spurs getting their first repeat. Of the team's four prior repeat bids, the most comparable to what we've seen so far this season is 1999-00, when an aging team of 30-somethings (plus pre-knee surgery Duncan) limped its way to a 53-29 record, which were the fewest wins in the Duncan era until the 2009-10 team went 50-32. At the same point in its season at which we are in this one, that 2000 team was 22-12, having stumbled through December with an 8-7 record following several close losses. Of course, that team had more limitations and flaws than the current incarnation of the Spurs, especially on offense (its defense finished the season ranked 2nd, though this was before the hand checking rules instituted a few years later so direct comparisons are difficult) and, outside of Sean Elliott missing all but 19 games, its injury woes were not as pervasive or as widespread as those faced by today's Spurs.

At full health, I firmly believe the 2014-15 Spurs are still the best team in the league, fully capable of beating any other team in a playoff series without having to place too much hope in luck or circumstance. But the playoffs aren't seeded based on how you looked at the end of last season, or the beginning of this one. We don't know when (or if) the Spurs will be fully healthy this year, and the ground lost early on may be too much to make up over the next three and a half months. Provided Kawhi comes back, oh, some time in the next few weeks, it's entirely possible these Spurs could equal the 2000 team's 53-29 record. To do that, SA would have to go 33-15 the rest of the season, or somewhere between the current Clippers and Mavs, based on win percentage. That's a clear step or two up from what the Spurs have done so far, but not far-fetched. And while it's nine fewer games than the team won last year, it's only four fewer than the 2007 title team, and actually one win more than the 2006 Miami Heat managed.

That's the good news. The bad news? That record would move the Spurs up precisely one playoff seed, which I base not on the current standings but on last year's playoff standings, when 53 wins nearly got you the 2nd seed in the East but wouldn't get a West team home court advantage in even a single playoff series.

Pre All-Star break (OMS Projection: 12-6)

Even without Parker and Leonard, the Spurs should get back on a winning track through January, with its oodles of home games leading up to the RRT, two SEGABABAs, and a relatively breezy seven games against playoff teams, of which four are against Eastern conference teams, in addition to games against Phoenix (the current West eight seed), and the Clippers (whom the Spurs have already beaten twice this year.)

Balance of February (OMS Projection: 5-2)

The Spurs will play the Eastern leg of the RRT before the week-long All-Star break. Which is good, because the Western leg features games against four playoff teams (Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, Suns), and two non-playoff teams who have given them problems already (Jazz, Kings.) This may be the toughest stretch to project given the variables of injury, fatigue, and the overall status of the Western Conference. Right now the Clips, Dubs, and Blazers are ahead of the Spurs in the standings, so here's hoping the Spurs are up for a little dragon slaying.

March (OMS Projection: 10-4)

This is the Spurs' best chance for a Spursian run of dominance - and just in time, too. The team starts the month on six days' rest, and the first six games of the month are at home. Things get a little more challenging after that, with some Western playoff teams added to the mix, including OKC and Dallas (twice), as well as the final regular-season game with Memphis, which may be key to any aspirations the Spurs have of retaking the Southwest Division.

HOWEVER! The month, astonishingly, contains only one SEGABABA. With that in mind, and with plenty of games against Eastern Conference dregs sprinkled in the March mix, I like the Spurs' chances to string up some Ws as the second season approaches.

April (OMS Projection: 5-3)

A half-month that puts the Spurs back in familiar territory, with two SEGABABAs and six games against prospective Western conference playoff teams (preceded by games against Orlando and Denver.) For the first time in five seasons, the Spurs will almost certainly enter April pressing not only to pass the 50-win plateau, but also to secure a playoff seed that will allow them to start at least one playoff series at home. After what's happened to open the season, some uncertainty at the end would only be fitting. The alternative is worse: it means things are already too far gone to worry about.

So, Spurs fans, throw a little salt over your shoulder, knock on wood, and pray for a little more uncertainty in 2015. We're probably going to need it.