I don’t know about you, but I had no idea what to expect coming into the season. From a talent perspective, adding DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and another year of experience to our youngsters seemed like a net positive to last season’s Kawhi-less team. I knew it would take time for all the new pieces to gel, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure that adding another mid-range player would be a good fit alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.
If you had forced me to make a guess before the season, I probably would have guessed that the Spurs would be battling for the 5th or 6th spot in the extremely competitive Western Conference. I think those were reasonable expectations given the pristine track record of PATFO.
Then Dejounte Murray went down, and I was once again left scrambling for answers. There’s no doubt that Murray’s absence is still being felt, but even with the Spurs’ struggles on the defensive end, they have managed to stay in the playoff picture.
It’s going to be an all-out bloodbath over the next six weeks for those teams in the Western Conference battling for the final playoff spots. Because the Spurs are one of those teams, I decided to dig into their Strength of Schedule (SoS) and compare it to the other teams battling for position in the Western Conference. Specifically, I looked at the teams who were ranked 3rd (Oklahoma City Thunder) through 11th (Minnesota Timberwolves), as those are the teams that matter in terms of the Spurs’ playoff outlook.
Below are some definitions required before digging into the numbers:
- Remaining Strength of Schedule (RSoS) — The total win percentage of a team’s remaining opponents.
- Adjusted Remaining SoS (ARSoS) — RSoS adjusted based on opponent’s record at home and on the road. If a team is at home, only the opponent’s road record is taken into account when deriving a team’s strength of schedule. The Spurs are a great example of a team who is great at home but pretty bad on the road, so taking the Spurs’ overall record into account isn’t a good enough indicator as to how tough they are going to be as an opponent. It’s more accurate to base the strength of schedule using home/road splits.
- Games vs. Teams Outside Playoff Race — This is a subjective list, but my list included Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavs, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix Suns
Oklahoma City Thunder (3rd in the Western Conference)
Record: 38-20, RSoS (Rank): 0.573 (1st), ARSoS (Rank): 0.576 (2nd), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 14/10/5
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: March 2nd in San Antonio
The Thunder have one of the most difficult remaining schedule of all the teams with a realistic shot at making the playoffs in the Western Conference. They do have the highest percentage of home games of all these teams, but even adjusting the SoS based on the home/road split, their schedule is brutal. The good news for them is they have built up a pretty nice cushion between themselves and the 4th place Blazers. They will need as much cushion as possible with only five of their remaining 24 games versus teams looking for ping pong balls as opposed to playoffs wins. On the plus side, they should be in full playoff mode by the time the playoffs roll around.
My prediction: The Denver Nuggets also have a difficult remaining schedule. I think the Thunder end up no worse than 3rd in the Western Conference, with a 50/50 shot at overtaking the Nuggets by the time the playoffs roll around.
Portland Trail Blazers (4th in the Western Conference)
Record: 35-23, RSoS: 0.494 (5th), ARSoS: 0.517 (4th), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 9/15/9
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: March 16th in San Antonio
The Blazers have an interesting remaining schedule. While their RSoS and ARSOS are both middle of the pack, only nine of their remaining 24 games are at home. Add to that the Blazers’ poor road record of 11-15, and the Blazers are going to have a difficult time holding onto their position in the Western Conference.
My prediction: The Blazers end up dropping out of 4th position and end up 6th in the Western Conference.
Houston Rockets (5th in the Western Conference)
Record: 33-25, RSoS: 0.501 (4th), ARSoS: 0.506 (5th), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 12/12/9
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: March 22nd in Houston
The Rockets have had significant injuries this season, and their style of play has garnered some pretty harsh criticism from both players and analysts around the NBA. Some of the criticism is warranted. In the playoffs, when defenses can hone in on Harden and referees swallow their whistles, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets being able to sustain a high enough level of play to win a championship if they continue relying so heavily on him. Chris Paul will need remain healthy and continue elevating his play. Even so, when assuming they can stay healthy the rest of the way, their remaining strength of schedule puts them in a position to at least take over 4th position and get home court advantage in the first round. Unfortunately for them, that would also likely pit them against the Golden State Warriors in the second round (assuming they get out of the first).
My prediction: The Rockets put it together enough to end up 4th in the Western Conference.
Utah Jazz (6th in the Western Conference)
Record: 32-26, RSoS: 0.445 (9th), ARSoS: 0.413 (9th), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 12/12/13
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: None
Despite a thrilling double-overtime loss to the Thunder on Friday, the Jazz are in excellent position to jump up the standing over the final six weeks of the regular season. Their RSoS of .445 is the easiest of the group, and their .413 ARSoS is the easiest by a mile. They have a ridiculous 13 games against teams outside of the playoff race.
My prediction: The Jazz could make some noise. They are playing well and have an incredibly easy remaining schedule. I still think the Rockets hold them off and the Jazz end up finishing 5th (pushing the Blazers down to 6th), but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Jazz jump all the way up to 4th before season’s end.
San Antonio Spurs (7th in the Western Conference)
Record: 33-27, RSoS: 0.477 (7th), ARSoS: 0.485 (7th), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 12/10/9
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Spurs were middle-of-the-road in terms of RSoS and ARSoS. After getting the Toronto Raptors game out of the way (a gut-wrenching loss to boot), they now have one of the easier remaining schedules. They have two less games to play than every other team in the running other than the Clippers, so their games should be spaced out a bit more, allowing for some extra rest.
Five of their ten remaining road games are versus teams out of the playoff race, but can we really trust the Spurs on the road against any team? I believe they will need to win each and every one of those five games. The Spurs have seven games against the top four teams in both conferences, and five of those games are at home.
My prediction: I think the Spurs’ schedule favors them to make the playoffs. Their tough games are mostly at home, and their road games — where they have struggled — are against lesser competition. I like that pattern better than the alternative. Even so, I don’t expect the Spurs to end up higher than 7th in the standings. The Jazz’s schedule is too easy to pass them, and the other teams’ advantage in the standings may prove too much to overcome in such a short period of time. I don’t think that’s the worst thing though, as I think it’s a strong possibility that the Warriors, Rockets, and Jazz all end up in the 1st, 4th, and 5th spots. I think the Spurs can hang with the Nuggets and Thunder.
Los Angeles Clippers (8th in the Western Conference)
Record: 33-27, RSoS: 0.49 (6th), ARSoS: 0.462 (8th), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 13/10/8
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: None
The Clippers should be tanking shouldn’t they? They traded away their best player for a really good haul of future assets before the trade deadline. Their first round draft pick goes to the Celtics if they make the playoffs, giving the front office even more incentive to persuade Doc Rivers to deploy lineups that may or may not help them lose games.
Good for them for still going for it (or at least giving the illusion of going for it). Their ARSoS is second easiest of the group, thanks in large part to 13 of their remaining 23 games being at home. It will be interesting to see how things play out by season’s end. Serious question: is it worth clinging onto the 8th seed if it results in the loss of a first round draft pick and a date with the Warriors in the first round? I’m not sure they make the playoffs regardless, so it may be moot. Something’s got to give at some point.
My prediction: Cooler heads prevail and the Clippers fall outside the top 8 in the Western Conference.
Sacramento Kings (9th in the Western Conference)
Record: 30-28, RSoS: 0.474 (8th), ARSoS: 0.524 (3rd), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 11/13/11
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: March 31st in San Antonio
The Kings are a perfect example of RSoS being slightly misleading. When looking directly at opponent’s records, the Kings have the second easiest remaining schedule. When taking home/road splits into account, they have the 3rd toughest. They also have 11 games against teams outside the playoff race, which works in their favor.
My prediction: They are still a very young team. I think they overtake the Clippers, but end up 9th in the Western Conference standings. In a couple years they could be dangerous, and I hope they have success in the future. Their fans deserve some success.
Los Angeles Lakers (10th in the Western Conference)
Record: 29-29, RSoS: 0.517 (6th), ARSoS: 0.494(3rd), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 12/12/8
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: None
Their ARSoS isn’t as daunting as their RSoS suggests. If their recent win against the Rockets taught me anything, it’s that even in the tough Western Conference, I don’t think LeBron James is going to let his team miss the playoffs. He said playoff mode has been activated, and he certainly seemed more engaged against the Rockets.
My prediction: I think LeBron leads them to a playoff berth. Though to be fair, it may have more to do with the Clippers not really wanting to win and the Kings being incredibly young. Still, I think they end up in 8th place and play the Warriors in the first round.
Minnesota Timberwolves (11th in the Western Conference)
Record: 28-30, RSoS: 0.553 (2nd), ARSoS: 0.58 (1st), Home/Road/Outside Playoff Games: 12/12/6
Remaining Games vs. Spurs: None
Another team who traded away their best player midseason (KAT may have something to say about that), only to continue treading water in the West. Robert Covington should return at some point, but their remaining schedule is extremely difficult. They would have to pass both L.A. teams and the Kings, which seems nearly impossible given their schedule.
My prediction: The Wolves end up 12th in the Western Conference, with the Dallas Mavericks overtaking them.
Hold onto your cowboy hats, as it’s guaranteed to be a wild and bumpy road to the finish line. It’s been an extremely frustrating February, but I believe the Spurs will eek out a playoff spot. Once in, their experience could pay dividends. I believe the Spurs end up playing the Nuggets in the first round. The Nuggets have a fantastic home court advantage though, so winning one (or even two) games on the road might be asking too much.
So what do you think, Pounders? How does the rest of the season shake out for the Spurs and everyone else? Feel free to vote and discuss in the comments.
Where will the Spurs will be at the end of the regular season?
This poll is closed
They will rise in the standings.
They will remain in 7th.
They will fall to 8th but make the playoffs.
They will miss the playoffs.