There’s no way around it: the Spurs blew a golden opportunity last week (no pun intended...okay maybe a little). The week started with such promise: a home win over the Atlanta Hawks tied things up between the Spurs and Warriors for the top seed with the Spurs holding the tie-breaker. There was even better news on the injury front as Kawhi Leonard would only miss one game after going through concussion protocol, and LaMarcus Aldridge only missed two games after a series of tests following a bout of heart arrhythmia showed he was fit to play.
Despite concerns in the point guard department, with Tony Parker missing some time with a sore back and Dejounte Murray out with a strained groin (possibly indefinitely), the Spurs looked poised to maintain its general hold on the top spot with a challenging but doable schedule for a team that had been surging in recent weeks. That didn’t happen as the Spurs looked lethargic in close losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies: teams who are fighting for the playoff/seeding lives, while simultaneously the Warriors began to rediscover their groove despite still missing Kevin Durant (who has been cleared to travel with his team).
Now the Spurs are back to being two games behind their main nemesis with a tougher schedule ahead, but fighting for the top seed should not be the main priority. The Spurs have the best road record in the league and at times have looked more focused away from home. The top priority should be getting healthy and finding a rhythm heading into the playoffs. For various reasons (mainly health) the Spurs have used 24 different starting line-ups in 69 games this season. That’s a lot, and while the Spurs deserve praise for maintaining such a high record despite the constant changes, consistency would certainly help.
This week’s schedule presents a prime opportunity to right the ship with games against the scrappy Timberwolves and at home vs. the Grizzlies and Knicks. The schedule only gets harder after that, so with everyone in the top two units healthy and only two back-to-backs remaining, hopefully Pop can start putting his desired playoff rotations out there get them in a rhythm.
Jon Schuhmann, NBA.com - 2 (last week: 1)
The Spurs got LaMarcus Aldridge back after just a two-game absence, but proceeded to lose two straight games for the first time since January and allow three straight opponents to score at least 100 points per 100 possessions for the first time all season. A non-injury-related starting lineup change (Davis Bertans instead of Dewayne Dedmon) didn't work out so well against Sacramento on Sunday (Bertans was a minus-17 in 15 minutes), but they got good minutes from their bench frontline of David Lee and Pau Gasol to keep the race for the No. 1 seed in the West somewhat interesting. After Tuesday's visit to Minnesota, the Spurs play seven of their next eight games at home, with the Warriors in town for the final regular season meeting next Wednesday.
Pace: 96.8 (27) OffRtg: 109.6 (6) DefRtg: 101.0 (1) NetRtg: +8.6 (2)
David Aldridge, NBA.com - N/A (last week: 1)
Marc Stein, ESPN - 2 (last week: 1)
It was a rare week of ups and downs for the ever-consistent Spurs. The news was sensational on the injury front with LaMarcus Aldridge (heart arrhythmia) and Tony Parker (several ailments as detailed here by our Michael C. Wright) returning to the lineup to launch their playoff preparations in earnest, but the actual basketball was uncharacteristically unpredictable. San Antonio grabbed a share of the conference lead for the first time since the morning of Nov. 9, outlasting Atlanta at home to complete the impressive erasure of a season-high deficit in the standings -- they had fallen five games behind the Warriors -- in a span of just 29 days. But back-to-back losses enabled Golden State to reopen a two-game gap at the top. If you prefer to laser in on the defensive end, San Antonio is bidding to lead the league in defensive efficiency for the second straight season. (The Spurs also finished third, fourth and third in DE in the three seasons before that.)
AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today - 2 (last week: 1)
The Spurs dodged a bullet on the injury front this week, as MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard missed just one game in the NBA's concussion protocol while All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge missed just two with a minor heart arrhythmia. On the basketball front? San Antonio pushed past Atlanta on Monday, 107-99, but lost back-to-back games against Portland and Memphis.
Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated - 4 (last week: 4)
Thankfully LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart appears to be fine, and Kawhi is back from his concussion, and the Spurs are still serious playoff contenders. If history serves, they should be back to top form in no time.
Matt Moore, CBS Sports - 2 (last week: 2)
San Antonio's a fascinating team to talk about. No one disputes Kawhi Leonard's brilliance. No one argues that the Spurs and Popovich could very well make a run to the NBA Finals. But there are concerns about the rest of the roster and whether this team is a paper tiger, or a sleeping giant. It feels so stupid to doubt a projected 60-plus-win team with Popovich and Kawhi, but there's something people that watch nightly can't put their finger on with this team.
Kurt Helin, NBC Sports - 3 (last week: 1)
Great news that LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart issue was not that serious, plus Kawhi Leonard is now back from his concussion, and Tony Parker’s back is strong enough that he shot 8-of-10 Sunday night. However, they got Aldridge back and quickly dropped two straight games, which is not like them and has them a couple games out of the No. 1 seed (and with a slightly tougher schedule than the Warriors the rest of the way).