With the Spurs slowly sliding down the standings and currently sitting at 7th in the wild wild west (one game away from 10th but also just one behind fourth), do-or-die time is approaching. Sporting a losing record since the calendar flipped to 2018 and six of their last seven losses featuring fourth quarter collapses after leading for much of the night, the Spurs need to figure themselves out quickly if they want to make the playoffs.
A good step in that direction would be the return of Kawhi Leonard, which reportedly could happen as soon as this Thursday, but even he won’t solve all of their issues if they don’t band together as a team. After they complete their Road Trip of Death tonight at the home of the league-leading Rockets, the Spurs will have a chance to make up some ground with six-straight home games.
It won’t be easy; a Jonathon Simmons homecoming on a SEGABABA is the most favorable of the six games, and nothing has been a given lately regardless of the opponent’s record. (The Spurs came a few lucky bounces from blowing one to Memphis at home, after all.) However, wins over three teams the Spurs are currently in direct competition for playoff seeding with can only help (Pelicans, Timberwolves and Jazz), and opportunity is knocking against two playoff-bound teams that are currently struggling without their star point guards (Golden State and the Washington Wizards).
If the Spurs can come out of this 4-2 and with Leonard back, they should be in solid shape going forward. 3-3 could be survivable if at least two of those wins come against the their aforementioned direct playoff opponents in case tie-breakers come into play, but anything worse might spell trouble and require a hard push to make the playoffs. The Spurs hold this season’s destiny in their own hands, now they just need to deliver if they want it to last longer than 14 more games.
Week 21 - Klaw signal activated: Rumors of a possible Kawhi return loom large as the Spurs’ struggles to hold on to second half leads and finish out games continue.
This week: Mon. @ Rockets (52-14), Tues. vs. Magic (20-47), Thurs. vs. Pelicans (38-28), Sat. vs. Timberwolves (39-29)
John Schuhmann, NBA.com - 15 (last week: 15)
With losses at Golden State and Oklahoma City last week, we know the Spurs will have a losing record on the road for the first time since they drafted Tim Duncan. We’re pretty sure they’re also going to win fewer than 50 games (in a non-lockout season) for the first time in that same time frame. But maybe Kawhi Leonard will return to save their 20-year playoff streak, with big games against the Pelicans, Wolves and Jazz in a six-game homestand that starts Tuesday. The Spurs still have the West’s fourth best point differential, but the loss to the Warriors on Thursday dropped them to 16-14 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, a year after they were a league-best 29-14 in clutch games, with Leonard leading the team in clutch usage rate by a wide margin. If he can just give them a little push in a close games, that could be the difference.
Pace: 97.2 (29) OffRtg: 105.2 (18) DefRtg: 102.5 (2) NetRtg:+2.7 (9)
David Aldridge, NBA.com - N/A (last week: 7)
ESPN Staff - 14 (last week: 8)
The Spurs’ loss on Saturday in Oklahoma City assured them of their first losing road record since 1996-97. San Antonio’s 20-season streak was the longest by any team in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The Yankees (1946-64) had the second-longest such streak at 19 seasons. -- Michael Schwartz
Rowan Nadkarni, Sports Illustrated - 18 (last week: 14)
The Spurs are going to finish without a winning record on the road this season, the first time that’s happened in 20 years. Kawhi Leonard will reportedly return this week, and his services will be needed in what’s become a very tight race for the playoffs.
Chris Barnwell, CBS Sports - 19 (last week: 19)
Kawhi Leonard should be making his return in the near future and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. The Spurs have won three of their last 13 games and are in serious danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 1997. That summer they drafted some guy named Tim Duncan. Whatever happened to him?
AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today - 13 (last week: 14)
Reports point to Kawhi Leonard making his return on Thursday, which, barring any setbacks, would give him 14 games to get back into the swing of things. A top-four seed is still very much a possibility for the Spurs, but with the third-toughest remaining schedule in the league, so is a playoff absence for the first time in 21 years. Translation: There’s not much leeway.