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Power Rankings, Week 17: Spurs survive FIGASENI but still have work to do

It could have been better, and it could have been worse.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There’s two ways to look at last week’s FIGASENI, dubbed the most difficult week of the season: either it’s a success considering they went 3-2 despite four road games and three games against teams with winning records, or it’s a negative considering arguably could have gone 5-0 since both losses were against shorthanded teams, with one featuring the San Antonio Spurs doing something they rarely have this season: blow a double-digit lead. Regardless, coming into the week most probably would have considered this result a success, so take it and run.

Week 17: After a surprise win in Dallas thanks to a game-winner from DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs kicked off Week 17 facing the remaining games of the FIGASENI and managed to both disappoint and exceed expectations all at once, which seems pretty inline with this squad. They started off the next night in Florida to take on the tanking Orlando Magic, and as they should have, they controlled wire-to-wire in their first road wins on back-to-back nights since November 2016 (i.e. the last season the Spurs were truly good).

But alas, just as it seemed the Spurs were ready to win three straight as they hopped over to Tampa Bay to take on the Toronto Raptors — who were missing three starters in Kyle Lowry, Gary Trent, and Fred VanVleet — they came out flat, got outhustled throughout the game, and only really showed a desire to win once they were down 13 with just over three minutes left. Despite closing the gap a bit and making Toronto sweat it out, it was too late.

The Spurs then returned home to face the Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers. Initially, it seemed like maybe they were ready to put their season-long home woes behind them, but the curse lived on as they blew two separate 16-point leads as the offense went cold for the final 17 minutes and mistakes piled up. The final minute itself couldn’t have gone much worse. After a DeMar DeRozan bucket gave the Spurs a three-point lead, CJ McCollum responded with a two of his own before Lonnie Walker was stripped at the top of the key, and the go-ahead lay-up gave Portland the lead with 22 seconds left. The Spurs would go on to miss three shots in the final possession to lose, and it was only compounded by a missed foul by the refs on the final attempt.

As a result, it seemed Saturday’s match-up at the home of the West’s second best team, the Phoenix Suns, was a throwaway as Gregg Popovich rested DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and Patty Mills all at once — resulting in a fine along the way — but the Spurs had a flashback to the glory days as the role players picked up the slack for the surprising blowout win, making the league look like fools for questioning Pop’s resting tactics once again. It was especially encouraging to see Devin Vassell have a career night following several DNP’s that had led many to question Pop’s decision to not play him and instead stick to a tight rotation that has been visibly wearing on his players.

The Spurs now enter a pivotal week featuring three of four games against teams that currently own losing records (and the fourth is only one game above .500) but also only one against a team that isn’t in the play-in hunt. (And that one is at home, so it’s hardly a guaranteed win at this point.) The final push begins now, and the Spurs can’t afford to take anymore games for granted.

Last Week: 2-2 (27-28, 10th in West) — 120-97 vs. Magic (win), 112-117 vs. Raptors (loss), 106-107 vs. Trail Blazers (loss), 115-85 vs. Suns (win)

This Week: 4/19 @ Indiana Pacers, 4/21 vs. Miami Heat, 4/22 vs. Detroit Pistons, 4/24 @ New Orleans Pelicans

Andrew Lopez, ESPN: 18 (Last week: 17)

After tough losses to Toronto and Portland, San Antonio bounced back with a 111-85 win against the Suns despite resting DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl, a move that caused the NBA to fine the organization $25,000 for violating the league’s player resting policy. San Antonio entered the Phoenix game as a 12-point underdog and came away with a 26-point win. It is tied for the second-largest win by a 12-point underdog in the past 30 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports: 17 (Last week: 19)

You can’t stop Drew Eubanks, you can only hope to contain him. With DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl out of the lineup, Eubanks put up 13 points and career-high 13 rebounds as the short-handed Spurs wiped the floor with the Suns in one of the more shocking outcomes of the season. Devin Vassell also scored a career-high 18 points in the win, finally getting opportunity in a normally crowded San Antonio backcourt. Overall the Spurs went 2-2 for the week, and remain in play-in position.

John Schuhmann, 17 (Last week: 15)

The Spurs are hanging in against their brutal, second-half schedule. Their loss to Portland on Friday, in which they blew a 16-point lead and essentially turned the game over in the final 30 seconds, was rough. But they rebounded with their best win of the season, a thrashing of the Suns in Phoenix without DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl or Patty Mills. The Spurs have seen the league’s fifth biggest post-All-Star jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (they rank 20th defensively since the break), but the win on Saturday was, by far, Phoenix’s worst offensive performance of the season (85 points on 96 possessions). It also came with big games from Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell (37 total points on 17-for-23 shooting), important given the recent struggles of the Spurs’ bench.

It improved the Spurs to 5-3 without DeRozan and 4-7 in the second games of back-to-backs, with five more back-to-backs to play. The next one is Wednesday and Thursday when they host Miami and Detroit before they begin a four-game trip with what may be their most important game of the second half schedule. With the season series currently tied (both of the previous meetings went down to the wire), their game in New Orleans could go a long way in determining one of the final two Play-In spots in the West.

Mo Dakhil, Bleacher Report: 18 (Last Week: 20)

The Spurs took a gut punch in their loss to the Blazers as they blew a 16-point second-half lead. They did not hang their heads long because they followed that loss with a big win in Phoenix to end the week.

San Antonio is clinging to the last spot in the play-in tournament but has gone 3-7 in its past 10 games. Five of those losses were by single digits.

During this 10-game stretch, six games were within three points with three minutes left. The Spurs have gone 1-5 with a net rating of minus-22.3 in those games in large part due to poor late-game execution. One example is this turnover committed by Lonnie Walker IV that led directly to the Blazers scoring the go-ahead basket.

Due to an earlier COVID outbreak within the organization, the schedule has been unforgiving for the Spurs. Between the All-Star break and the end of the season, San Antonio doesn’t have two successive off-days at any point.

Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer: N/A