Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!
Week 22: March Madness engulfs wild 2-2 week
The Spurs are in a position they’ve never been before, and fans aren’t sure what to make of it. The most stable franchise in sports is stuck in the middle: too good to sink to the bottom of the league (therefore increasing their likelihood of a top 4 pick in the draft without blatantly tanking), but not good enough to make the playoffs outright or even the play-in without fighting down to the wire.
Being a small market team that isn’t a free agent destination and whose best players in franchise history came via the top overall pick, there’s one faction of fans who believe tanking for the highest possible pick is the only way to get to the top of the league again, and as a result they should try “less hard” to win. Then, there’s the other side that just wants to see the young Spurs play their hardest for a win every night, relish the experience of a possible play-in game or two, and let draft chips fall where they may. (We’re calling this the “pro-experience” crowd going forward.)
There are legit arguments to be made for both sides, but the reality right now is these Spurs appear headed to make the play-in tournament not just because they keep winning, but the teams around them keep losing. They played one such team this week, the Portland Trail Blazers, who have the same excuse as the 1997 Spurs to fall back on to those who cry tank, with two of their best players out injured for the season. The Spurs predictably put them away with ease, and regardless of what side of the tank debate you’re out, most can probably agree they aren’t going to lose to this squad in any of their remaining match-ups. (Besides, who actually wants to see Drew Eubanks beat Jakob Poeltl?)
The Spurs then ended the week with a revenge-fueled, close victory over a Pelicans team that embarrassed them a week prior and whom they are in a three-way battle with for the 9th and 10th seeds (along with the sinking Lakers, whom the Spurs also own the tie-breaker over and just lost to the Pelicans yesterday). The win was the Spurs’ third straight and got them within a game of the play-in and the tie-breaker over NOLA. This one really triggered the tank debate, since the pro-tank crowd saw this as an easy game to let slide and increase the Spurs’ odds of a higher draft pick, while the pro-experience crowd saw it as growth and a reason to just accept that these Spurs are too good to tank. With 8 games left against a middling strength-of-schedule and ever improving odds of advancing, the debate will rage on.
We’re changing things up from play or stat of the week to ask one simple question: which side of the tank debate are you on?
What side of the tank debate are you on?
This poll is closed
Pro-tank: Spurs should get the highest possible draft pick
Pro-experience: Spurs should try to their hardest and let the chips fall where they may
In case you missed it
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 23 (Last week: 23)
Pace: 100.6 (3) OffRtg: 111.5 (16) DefRtg: 111.7 (18) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)
A three-game winning streak has the Spurs alive in the race for the final two Play-In spots in the West. They’ve been in the West’s top eight in regard to point differential for most of the season, but they’re finally getting some close wins. The Spurs (who had the league’s second-worst clutch record three weeks ago) have won their last five games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Though they almost blew a late, 10-point lead, their win in New Orleans on Saturday was also just their fifth victory (they were previously 4-40) after trailing by double-digits. And with that win, the Spurs hold the tiebreakers against both the ninth-place Pelicans (via a 3-1 head-to-head record) and the 10th-place Lakers (via a better conference record – the season series was tied).
The Spurs are set to finish outside the top 10 on defense for the fourth straight season, having ranked in the top 10 in 20 of the previous 21. They continue to struggle on the defensive glass (they rank 25th in defensive rebounding percentage) and Saturday was the seventh time they’ve allowed more than 25 second chance points. But it was their first win in one of those games and the winning streak has been their best three-game stretch of offense (122.4 points scored per 100 possessions) since late January. Dejounte Murray had a rough shooting night (4-for-19) in New Orleans, but had 13 assists with just two turnovers, and (even with Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV out) six other Spurs scored in double-figures.
The Spurs have the league’s fifth-biggest differential between their winning percentage against the 14 teams currently at or below .500 (21-14, .600) and their winning percentage against the 16 teams currently over .500 (9-30, .231). Two of those nine wins against the latter group (the good teams) have come in the last 18 days, and they’ll certainly need more to make the Play-In, with five of their final eight games coming against teams currently over .500. The other three – one in Houston, two against the Blazers – are this week.
ESPN Staff — 23 (Last week: 23)
Dejounte Murray recorded his 13th triple double of the season in a key victory over the Pelicans on Saturday to keep San Antonio in the thick of the Western Conference play-in race. Murray had 15 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds and three steals in the 107-103 win over the Pelicans. It was Murray’s eighth triple-double this season with at least three steals. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only Nikola Jokic has done that more than once this season. — Andrew Lopez
Prediction 3-1 — The pro-tank crowd isn’t going to like this schedule, because good luck getting this Spurs squad to lose three times to less talented, actively tanking teams. The Rockets surprised the Spurs earlier in the season, but don’t expect them to try too hard in this one. Same with Portland, where the main trap to watch for is complacency that can arise in an awkward home-and-home miniseries, especially so soon after a blowout victory. As for the Grizzlies, it’s just a bad match-up, and the Spurs have not shown they can contain Ja Morant and company, so chalk that one up as a loss.