The San Antonio Spurs are in a unique position right now, and it’s one they share with just a handful of other NBA teams. Having participated in the Orlando Bubble but not making a deep playoff run, the Spurs hold a distinct advantage of having actually played since March and gotten some valuable experience in along the way, but they should also be completely refreshed heading into the new season despite the short offseason.
With rest and recovery time being a legit concern for teams who made deep playoff pushes that went well into September (or even October), this could prove to be an advantage for the Spurs and other middling teams, especially early on. For example, the Spurs have homecourt advantage in this season’s series with the defending champion Lakers, and all three games will be played within the first eight games of the season. It would not be surprising at all to see an aging LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis take any of these games off or play limited minutes as they look to preserve themselves for later in the season.
Even if they don’t, the Spurs can still take advantage of simply being the fresher team not monitoring the minutes of their players, and that’s potentially an extra win or two that most would otherwise chalk up as losses on the schedule. Similar theories can be made about the Rockets, whom the Spurs will play twice at home in mid January. While Houston “only” made it to the second round of the playoffs, unlike the Spurs, they’re currently dealing with some serious roster turnover, inner turmoil, and a superstar who reportedly wants to be traded. We all know what that can do to a locker room.
The Spurs also hold another kind advantage over teams at the other end of the standings. There are eight teams who haven’t played an NBA game in over nine months now. As a result, they will likely be dealing with rust and uncertainty following the long layoff, along with the short training camp and just three preseason games.
An example of this advantage for the Spurs would be against the Timberwolves, who didn’t qualify for the Bubble. While they will be played on a back-to-back, the Spurs will get both of their road games in Minnesota out of the way relatively early against a team that doesn’t figure to be much improved from last season’s 19-45 record. Chalk up that up as another advantage for a Spurs team that has struggled on the road in recent years.
Of course, this isn’t to say the Spurs will come flying out of the gates. Despite the advantages playing in the Bubble but not the playoffs has given them — playing time without the exhaustion, valuable experience for the youngsters, learning the style of play they will approach this season with, etc. — they still have their own kinks to work through. Injuries to Derrick White and Keldon Johnson (and to a lesser extent, Quinndary Weatherspoon) means they will likely be missing their two breakout players from Orlando. They must also rework LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles, who both missed the Bubble due to injury, back into rotation and get them caught up on the new style.
No one is saying this will be easy, but as the Spurs have proven over the last three seasons — two of which ended with them just one game in and one game out (kinda) of the playoffs — every game counts. With the stated goal for this season being a return to the postseason and to start a new streak, that will especially be important early with the team holding a theoretical advantage over several of their early opponents that they’ll need to take advantage of. They started the last two seasons slow and had to play catch-up to get back into the hunt, so there’s no better time to reverse that trend than now.