After a 114-119 loss at Houston on Friday, San Antonio dropped its sixth straight game–putting them at 19 losses for the season. After a historic 37-6 start to the season, many previous critics of the Spurs finally began to recognize the Spurs as for real and rank them consistently first in power rankings. But with the current losing streak, the Spurs finally seem to be coming back down to Earth. This leaves us with a difficult question: how do San Antonio’s recent woes affect their odds for the playoffs?
Is it time to panic? Should we regress to a point earlier in the season when the Spurs’ 13-1 start was thought of as a mere fluke? Have the oldest “big 3” in the NBA finally reached the end of the line.
Simply put, no.
Here are some facts to keep in mind about San Antonio’s losing streak:
-All 6 losses have come to over .500 teams (including Denver, Portland, Memphis, Boston and Houston)
-Only one loss (Boston) was by double digits, and the Spurs forced OT in the most recent loss
-Parker, Ginobili and Duncan combined to miss six games in the streak, including a loss to Portland where the Spurs sent out a starting lineup of George Hill, James Anderson, Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter (yuck).
Speaking of injury-plagued teams on losing streaks, if you look back to games between December 28 and January 17, you’ll see a similar six game losing streak for the Dallas Mavericks, including three more losses caused in large part due to the nine game absence of Dirk Nowitzki. Even worse, three of these losses came to bottom feeders of the East, including Milwaukee, Indiana and Detroit. Yet, this streak was quickly forgotten after analysts used it as evidence to strengthen Nowitzki’s MVP campaign.
So why are people jumping off of the San Antonio bandwagon so quickly? Clearly, other NBA powerhouses have experienced similar lapses in greatness this season, and when the Spurs have lost, they’ve lost close games to good teams. But analysts still throw San Antonio under the bus for one reason: championship caliber teams always enter the postseason red-hot.
But is this idea even valid? Let’s look back to last season, when Boston’s 3-7 finish to the season had experts predicting an early exit to the playoffs for the now third seeded Celtics entering the playoffs. Those Celtics went on to win the Eastern Conference championship and force the Lakers to game seven in the Finals.
The Spurs are in many ways similar to last year’s Celtics. They have three experienced—yet aging—superstars complemented by a talented coach and veteran leadership from the bench. For a team like that, coming into the playoffs hot can tire out players and leave them vulnerable to a first round loss (see the 2006-7 Dallas Mavericks). With the playoffs fast approaching, it is much more important for the Spurs to have a healthy team than a hot team. Don’t be surprised if Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan see reduced minutes and possibly miss a few games for rest, even if this results in a few more losses by the end of the regular season.
San Antonio still holds a game and a half lead over Los Angeles for the first seed in the West, and it’s very possible that they close the season with the best record in the NBA, earning them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Spurs may appear vulnerable at the moment, but come playoff time, no team will be excited for a seven game series against Popovich’s club.