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NBA Daily: Spurs Remain Optimistic in Tight Playoff Race

The San Antonio Spurs remain optimistic while fighting for playoff seeding in the tight Western Conference, James Blancarte writes.

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As of today, the San Antonio Spurs have a winning record and are projected to make the playoffs. The franchise has enjoyed the most consistent success in the NBA over the last two decades and just about every year the team is viewed as a legitimate championship contender. However, cause for concern has risen recently.

After the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, the Western conference playoff contenders have had very little separation between their respective overall records. The Blake Griffin trade and injuries to Demarcus Cousins and Rudy Gobert (who is healthy again) have not kept the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz from staying in range of playoff contention. Meanwhile, the Spurs had been able to stay near the top of the standings among these teams while weathering the loss of Kawhi Leonard.

However, the Spurs’ last two losses, one to the Pelicans and one the Los Angeles Lakers, have added more urgency to the situation. With playoff seeding now an open issue, Spurs big man Pau Gasol made it clear how important each game is and how frustrating it is to drop a game against the Lakers.

“Tough, tough, tough one for us,” Gasol lamented. “It hurts. It’s a painful one.”

Spurs guard Patty Mills broke down the impact of the last two losses during today’s practice.

“It’s obviously been a little bit deflating or more than a little bit deflating the last, especially the last two games. Trying to keep people upbeat and remind them of the goal and take that into tonight’s game [against the Memphis Grizzlies],” Mills said.

The Spurs’ matchup against Memphis is critical. The Grizzlies’ playoff hopes ended some time ago and their focus is on the future. However, after hosting the Grizzlies in San Antonio, the Spurs go on the road to take on the Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Rockets.

The Spurs had done an admirable job of staying above this close crop of contenders for most of the season. However, over the past 10 games, the team is 2-8 and have since fallen to sixth place in the Western conference as a result. Mills broke down his recollection of a similar situation in year’s past.

“We’ve got however many games we have left but at this point and time, it does remind us of the year that we played the Clippers in the first round,” Mills said. “There are a number of games for us to get things right and execute better and make less mistakes.”

As a reminder, the Spurs went into that series as the sixth seed and although the Spurs went up 3-2, the Clippers won the final two games to advance and send the Spurs home early that season.

During practice, guard Danny Green also recalled the team dealing with volatile standings in the West in the past.

“We’ve been here before. We went from two to six one year with one loss. It’s the West, it’s tough,” Green recalled. “Not shocked but we got to take care of our own destiny.”

As of right now, the Spurs are tied with the Thunder while only being one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets and one and a half games against the Clippers, teams that are both 7-3 in their last 10 games each. Green was straightforward and explained how these days, any loss is potentially devastating.

“Every game is a must-win from here on out, we can’t afford to lose any, at this point. A lot of teams are creeping up. A lot of teams are in the same area, the same position we are in. We got to take care of our own destiny and that’s by winning games if you want to be in the playoffs and be in a good position in the playoffs,” Green stated.

Mills was asked what has been going wrong for the team and what could be done to improve.

“A lot of it is communication. Seems such a little thing but it makes a massive difference and not something we’ve necessarily had an issue with in the past,” Mills stated. “We do it for parts here and there, but in terms of consistency, for the 48 minutes is what I think we obviously need to get better and get better at quick before the playoffs.”

Green pointed out the boost big man LaMarcus Aldridge would provide if he can return from injury. Notably, Green focused on Aldridge’s rebounding and defense as opposed to his offense.

“I hope, it’ll make some things easier for us. For us, we’re not even struggling on that end of the floor, offensively, and he’s been our plus. But defensively, he’s underrated and can help us,” Green explained. “We’re scoring enough points but in the fourth quarter, we’re not getting the stops we need, the rebounds we need and I think he can help us on that end. The more bodies, the better, especially with an All-Star. That helps for sure.”

Looking forward, Mills projected overall optimism as he cautiously looked toward a potential playoffs berth.

“This is definitely a dangerous situation for sure. We’ve been on the bad side of that before. Especially with the way we have been playing. It’s all about us and what we can control to get where we want to be for playoffs. So, this is a great opportunity to get better no matter their team, on any kind of streak,” Mills stated.

With their history of success, Mills is not wrong to be optimistic about the team’s odds. Reports haven’t been completely clear but talk continues that Leonard may return this month as the team will be heading into the playoffs.

Green, who like Mills has been on the team for years, summed up the situation.

“We got to continue to stay positive, encourage us and at the same time take it in a good way,” said Green. “It’s business time, we got to get it going for playoffs and make it a good run.”

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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