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Making the play-in doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Spurs

Heading into a crucial matchup against the Pelicans, the Spurs are still in the play-in race. But in recent weeks the team has focused on the big picture instead, which makes sense.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

With only a few games left in the season, the Spurs’ chances of making the postseason are still alive. So let’s take a look at where they stand heading into a crucial matchup and try to figure out if missing the play-in would actually be bad for San Antonio.

The game against the Pelicans is a must-win if the Spurs hope to make the play-in. True or false?

Marilyn Dubinski: I’m going with true because all other things being equal, a loss would put the Spurs three games behind the Pelicans in the loss column and tie things up in the head-to-head, and at least for now the Pelicans have a slight edge in the next tie-breakers (division record, followed by conference record). The Spurs probably had room for one loss against New Orleans to remain competitive, and they already used it.

Mark Barrington: I think so. There are so few games left in the season, and winning that one gives the Spurs a shot, but they would still need the Pelicans or Lakers to lose a few more games, while the Spurs would have to play well. If they lose, the Spurs would need to win almost every remaining game while either the Pelicans or Lakers would have to lose almost all of their games. The Pelicans are better than that, and the Lakers are showing signs of life. It would take a near miracle for the Spurs to make the play-in if they lose to the Pels.

Bruno Passos: I’d say it qualifies, for all of the reasons Marilyn’s stated, although the Lakers remain a wild card to bottom out and make things easier. They have the 2nd toughest remaining schedule according to Tankathon, not that I’ve been spending more time there this season than ever before or anything.

Jesus Gomez: It’s probably true. Making up games when there are so few left will be tough for the Spurs, and the best chance to do so is to actually beat the team that is currently above them. San Antonio has a few winnable games left in the schedule, and the Pelicans or Lakers could have a bad stretch, but losing to New Orleans again would likely make getting to the play-in extremely hard.

Considering they’ve sat players for rest recently, do you think the Spurs are fully committed to making the play-in?

Dubinski: While I believe making the play-in remains the “goal”, they clearly aren’t going all in and putting their players’ health on the line just for one, maybe two extra games. (I personally don’t believe they would make playoffs, although give this team a little hot streak and they could make it happen). That being said, the NBA’s goal of using the play-in to encourage less tanking is working to a degree. A few teams (Kings, Trail Blazers, etc) have mailed it in, but two teams that otherwise would have by this point in the Spurs and Pelicans are still trying, so that’s something. (The Lakers aren’t tanking, they’re just bottoming out.)

Barrington: The players are fully committed, but the coaches are playing the long game. On most teams, some of the guys that are being rested could have played. I doubt that Lonnie Walker IV sees the court for the rest of the season. If the players can work through some of the weird lineups and odd combinations that Pop puts on the court, then they will deserve the extra game they earned by overcoming the challenges. There is some value to that, but I’m not sure the front office and coaches would take it over draft position.

Passos: You never know how much the season’s wear and tear is actually affecting some of these recent DNPs, but I’d say it would be consistent with the team’s approach from the regular season in not playing (and then trading) Thaddeus Young, that the team is not about selling out to make the postseason in the same way as previous years. While part of that is because they’re focusing on player development, I think it’s safe to say that the team is not pushing all of its chips into snagging that 10 seed.

Gomez: It’s doesn’t seem like it, which is completely understandable. It’s hard to imagine the Spurs getting past the play-in game and even if they do make the playoffs, they would probably be out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t say they are tanking, but the goal seems to be to improve more than it is to get the 10th best record right now. Next year, not making it to the postseason would probably be classified as a failure, but in this core’s first go-round, prioritizing health and development simply makes more sense than chasing a play-in slot.

If you had the chance to pick between a guaranteed top 5 pick or the play-in, which would you choose?

Dubinski: At this point I’d take the play-in just because the Spurs’ odds of landing a top 5 pick are extremely slim at this point without some Tim Duncan-level lottery ball luck, with six teams three or more games behind them plus Portland (who is currently within a game) actively tanking, and the Spurs aren’t going to purposefully lose the rest of their games. Still, while I will always have trouble rooting for tanking and want to see a win every time I turn on a Spurs game, if what appears to be the most likely scenario — the Spurs stay pretty much where they are and pick roughly 7th or 8th — plays out, I’d be fine with that.

Barrington: My heart says play-in, but my head says that the Spurs need another star player. After the game against the T-Wolves, it was obvious that as much grit as this team has, they can’t compete against teams with top-level talent yet. I think they definitely need another star, but I feel like getting one in the 8-10th pick in the NBA draft (which is where I think they’ll end up) is a bit of a crapshoot. They either need to get lucky with ping pong balls, or make a pick that outperforms expectations. Both of those scenarios are equally plausible, but not high probability.

Passos: This feels like a trick question in what is widely viewed as a 4-player draft! That said, if they’re getting a statistical crack at, say, a Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith, I think that’s far more meaningful than the seasoning this current roster might get by sneaking in the play-in.

Gomez: The top 5 pick. Postseason basketball is fun, but I simply don’t see the Spurs making noise this year, and some of the players on the team have experienced the postseason before, so they already know how it feels to be there. A top 5 pick would put the Spurs in range to grab one of the best players in this class, which seems more valuable than an extra game or two.