By: Field Level Media
San Antonio Spurs NBA Bubble Restart Preview
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (27-36), 12th in Western Conference
Where are they now: They’re without injured LaMarcus Aldridge and buried five-deep in the six-team battle for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, but assuming the Spurs’ historic run of consecutive playoff appearances is over might be a bit premature. There is, after all, that history of 22 straight years of postseason play, and the need to be within just four games of the No. 8 spot — they currently trail Memphis (32-33) by 4½ — to keep their hopes alive.
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The Spurs get a shot at three of the four teams ahead of them in the bottom-of-the-West logjam, including the team they’re all chasing — the Grizzlies. And ground could be made up quickly in Florida. San Antonio is a win over ailing Sacramento (28-36) in the re-opener and losses by New Orleans (28-36) to Utah and Portland (29-37) to Memphis from leap-frogging three teams and becoming the Grizzlies’ chief competition within 48 minutes of bubble action.
San Antonio Spurs Fight Half Highlights
The Spurs opened the season with the youngest Gregg Popovich edition (average age: 26.3) since 2010. And they played like it early on, going 2-11 after a 3-0 start. But they did enough right — including leading the league in fewest turnovers (12.3) and ranking in the top eight in all three of the major shooting categories (field goal, 3-pointers and free throws) to earn a guest pass to the Walt Disney World Resort.
They’ll have to hope they didn’t pack their un-Popovich-like defense, one that was historically bad (in franchise history, anyway) in field goal percentage (46.9, worst since 1997), 3-point field goal percentage (37.6, worst since 2009) and points allowed per 100 possessions (110.5, most ever).
“We’re defensively challenged,” the blunt Popovich has admitted.
San Antonio Spurs NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
Aldridge averaged 21.3 points in Spurs wins and 17.1 in losses, which demonstrates his importance to a relatively young team. And now he’s out for the season after shoulder surgery, which can’t be a good thing.
Or can it? The Spurs went a respectable 4-6 in Aldridge’s absences earlier this season, a .400 winning percentage that’s not far from the club’s .429 overall mark. Three of the four wins came against teams that also earned trips to the extended season — Houston, Utah and Orlando.
Co-star DeMar DeRozan was a lot better player in the team’s final 36 games (23.4 PPG, 55.2% FG, 6.2 assists) than in the first 27 (20.6 PPG, 49.4% FG, 4.8 assists). Not coincidentally, eight of those final 36 games were played without Aldridge, with whom DeRozan has had trouble meshing since being imported from Toronto.
Without Aldridge and Trey Lyles, who underwent a season-ending appendectomy earlier this month, the Spurs are left with DeRozan, veteran Patty Mills and a collection of eager-to-proved-themselves guards, including Lonnie Walker IV, the second-youngest player ever to suit up for San Antonio.
“We’re a young, athletic group that wants to play defense,” Walker reported from the NBA bubble. “We’re starving, we’re ready to play, we’re ready to win.”
San Antonio Spurs NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
Popovich will trot out a Spurs squad that won’t resemble the group teams got used to beating before the break. That could work to San Antonio’s advantage over the short haul, especially with the league’s most accomplished coach pulling the strings.
One problem: The schedule. It starts reasonably enough (Kings, Grizzlies), but then there are no softies in a run of 76ers, Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans, Rockets and Jazz again. If the Spurs need to do better than 4-4 to reach the play-in tournament (remember, they were 4-6 without Aldridge earlier), it might be too much to ask.
San Antonio Spurs Best Bet for the NBA Bubble: Spurs (minus-143 on SugarHouse) to win more than 2½ remaining games. You have to wonder how long the bubble’s weaker teams will stay focused as the season’s end comes mercifully within sight. That’s never a concern for a Popovich team. Meaningless game(s)? No such thing.
–Field Level Media