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January’s tough schedule could make or break the Spurs

The Spurs have found some rhythm heading into the new year, but that rhythm will soon be tested.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year! Enjoy this time because things are about to get real in terms of San Antonio Spurs basketball.

The Spurs have gone 9-7 since their eight game losing streak in the middle of November. Both their offensive and defensive ratings have been slightly better than league average during this stretch. If you’re an optimist, you’re probably saying that the Spurs are starting to find themselves and are legitimate playoff contenders. If you’re a pessimist like myself, you’ll note that only two of those nine wins have come against teams with a winning record: the Los Angeles Clippers and the Lonnie Walker IV coming out party against the Houston Rockets, both at home. Beyond those two wins, this team has lost their other nine games against teams currently sitting inside the top six of both conferences.

It’s too early to know for sure if the Spurs have truly turned over a new leaf, but the next six weeks of the schedule will leave no doubt one way or another.

Spurs Strength of Schedule in January

Opponent Date Home/Away Opponent Win %
Opponent Date Home/Away Opponent Win %
OKC 2-Jan Home 0.545
MIL 4-Jan Away 0.857
MIL 6-Jan Home 0.857
BOS 8-Jan Away 0.742
MEM 10-Jan Away 0.382
TOR 12-Jan Away 0.676
MIA 15-Jan Away 0.727
ATL 17-Jan Home 0.206
MIA 19-Jan Home 0.727
PHO 20-Jan Away 0.394
NOP 22-Jan Away 0.324
PHO 24-Jan Home 0.394
TOR 26-Jan Home 0.676
CHI 27-Jan Away 0.382
UTA 29-Jan Home 0.636

Some notes about the Spurs’ schedule in January:

  • The Spurs have fifteen games in total, seven at home and games on the road.
  • They won’t get a lot of experience facing playoff-bound teams in the West. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz are on the schedule in January, with both games being at home. That will change in February.
  • The Spurs have seven games against the top four teams in the East: the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors. Four will be away and three at home.
  • The Spurs have only six games against teams with a win percentage under .500, and four of those games are on the road where the Spurs are 4-10 this season and 34-64 over the past two-and-a-half seasons.
  • By far the easiest stretch in January will be the five games from January 17-24 when the Spurs play the Atlanta Hawks (home), Heat (home), Phoenix Suns (home/away), and visit the New Orleans Pelicans.
  • The Pelicans have been bad this season, but they are winners of four in a row and Zion Williamson is expected to be back on the court by the time the Spurs play them in late January.

The Schedule doesn’t get any easier in February

I wish I could say the Spurs’ schedule gets easier after a tough January, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. After a home game against the Orlando Magic to start February (another revenge game opportunity for the Spurs after the Magic won a tight one earlier this season on the back of a 34-10 free throw disparity), the Spurs leave San Antonio for their annual Rodeo Road Trip. This year is an eight game stretch against all Western Conference opponents. The first two games are against the two Los Angeles teams, then it’s the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Thunder (twice), and the Jazz. The Spurs finally come home on February 26 to play the Dallas Mavericks.

The silver lining of such a brutal schedule

Between now and the February 6 trade deadline, the Spurs play the Bucks (twice), Celtics, Raptors (twice), Heat (twice), Thunder, Jazz, Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers. These games will go a long way towards deciding whether the Spurs consider themselves playoff contenders or potential sellers before the trade deadline.

If the Spurs can continue their momentum by showing their recent good play can be replicated against playoff teams, they can stand pat at the deadline or look to make a minor tweak to the roster to help make the playoff push. Otherwise, if the right offers come along, I don’t see any reason for holding onto veteran players on a non-playoff team when there might be interest from other teams with championship aspirations.

No matter the outcome over the next month, I’m going to have fun watching the young players on the roster handle the adversity of this tough stretch of basketball.