Can the Spurs catch the Thunder?
We’ve now entered the final six weeks of the NBA regular season. While they haven’t technically clinched, we can safely assume the San Antonio Spurs will be in the playoffs once again. The only two questions that matter are how healthy will the Spurs be once the playoffs start and what will their seeding be. We can’t answer the first question but the second one is an interesting one to dive in to. Specifically, can the Spurs run down the Oklahoma City Thunder for the number one seed?
This prospect seemed highly unlikely just a few weeks ago, when the Spurs were battling through several injuries and the Thunder were on an unreal run without a top 10-15 player in Russell Westbrook. However, the Spurs have slowly but surely gotten healthy and since the All-Star break, the Thunder are 1-3, losing three straight before holding off the Memphis Grizzlies at home Friday night. The Spurs now sit 1 1/2 games back of Oklahoma City, just a single game back in the loss column. However, since the Thunder have won the season series, the Spurs need to finish two games better than the Thunder from here on out to overtake them for the number one seed.
Including Sunday night’s match up against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Thunder have 23 games remaining, 11 against teams currently in the playoffs and 11 on the road. This also includes four sets of back-to-backs and one run of six games in eight nights. A particularly interesting stretch to watch out for is a five game stretch that starts in Oklahoma City on Thursday, April 3 against the Spurs. The Thunder then start a four game road trip against the Houston Rockets the next night, before heading to Phoenix. Then they head to Sacramento before finishing their trip against the Los Angeles Clippers, which is the second game of a back-t0-back.
The Spurs have 24 games left, 10 against teams currently in the playoffs and 11 on the road. There’s four sets of back-to-backs remaining, but none of those crazy four games in five night stretches. The toughest week comes starting Monday, March 31 at the Indiana Pacers. The Spurs return home Wednesday, April 2 to play the Golden State Warriors. The next night they’re back on the road for that match up versus the Thunder. To review, that’s a road-home-road three game in four night week. It’s not the worst stretch they’ve had to deal with, but it’s certainly a quirky one.
Those are the particulars. It’s important to note the Houston Rockets are still lurking three games behind the Spurs in the Southwest Division, but considering the Spurs have one losing streak total this season, it seems unlikely Houston can make up those three games. Barring a significant injury, the race for the top seed is down to the Thunder and Spurs. San Antonio’s schedule is slightly more favorable and Oklahoma City appears to be having some major defensive issues at the moment.
In their last four games, the Thunder have allowed an average of a 112 points. Their roster is going through some upheaval at the moment. Oklahoma City is integrating Russell Westbrook back into its line up, it lost Kendrick Perkins for probably the rest of the regular season and recently added Caron Butler for some wing depth. Long term, Westbrook back and the addition of Butler are plusses, but for the moment it means roster uncertainty as guys adapt to new roles.
Despite their recent stumble, the Thunder are an elite team and Kevin Durant has proven he can carry them for long stretches. Saying it’s likely the Spurs are going to catch them for the one seed is a misguided. But with everyone healthy (we expect Tony Parker back for Sunday night’s game against the Mavs), you can see a path for San Antonio picking up those extra two games, which won’t mean much in the first or second round of the playoffs, but would obviously have a big impact on a potential Western Conference Finals match up.