Power Rankings, Week 23: Spurs rebound, begin home stretch

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After a perfect week, the next two games will help determine if the Spurs can push for 1st or rest in 2nd.

The time has come for the Spurs to make a decision. After briefly taking the top seed from the Golden State Warriors a couple of weeks ago, the Spurs lost two games before recovering for a perfect 3-0 last week. Now, with ten games to go, the Spurs remain two games back with one heck of a schedule remaining. With Portland taking over the eighth seed from the Denver Nuggets last night, nine of the Spurs’ remaining games are against teams currently in a playoff spot, and eight of those are in the West. The next two games might be the most important: tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Wednesday against the Warriors, who will be on the second night of a back-to-back (and we all know what happened the last time that was the case).

Win those two games, and they’re within one game (at-worst) of the top seed. If that happens, does Pop continue to push for home-court advantage with only one game prime for resting (against the Lakers next week)? Or does he continue to put his near A-team out every night while perhaps resting one player per game? Or perhaps he does what he would regardless: rest players down the stretch at liberty no matter the situation and let the chips fall where they may?

Regardless, one thing is for certain: if the Spurs want the top seed, they must take care of business this week. Otherwise, it won’t matter what rest schedule Pop enforces after that.

Last Week: 3-0 (at Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Knicks)

This week: Cavaliers, Warriors, at Thunder, Jazz

Jon Schuhmann, NBA.com – 2 (last week: 2)

The Spurs will play seven of their final 10 games, including each of the next five, against the 11 teams that are at least seven games over .500. But they have the best record (16-7) in games played within that group and five of those seven games are at home, where they’re 24-3 since Dec. 1. With the tiebreaker and another game against the Warriors (Wednesday), they still have a shot at the No. 1 seed, but Gregg Popovich obviously won’t hesitate to rest his best players. Danny Green, who has seen the league’s second biggest drop-off in effective field goal percentage since the All-Star break (from 56.5 percent to 43.6 percent), got the day off on Saturday.

Pace: 96.7 (27) OffRtg: 109.5 (6) DefRtg: 101.0 (1) NetRtg: +8.5 (2)

Team to watch this week: San Antonio — The Spurs will make the race for the No. 1 seed in the West (and home-court advantage through The Finals) very interesting if they can beat the Warriors on Wednesday. But before they get to that game, they have a visit from the champs on Monday. And they finish their week with games against the Thunder (in Oklahoma City) and Jazz.

David Aldridge, NBA.com – 1 (last week: 1)

Four wins away from the sixth 60-win season during the Popovich Era.

Marc Stein, ESPN – 2 (last week: 2)

Any hope of swiping the No. 1 seed in the West and home-court advantage from the Warriors realistically requires the Spurs to win the teams’ final regular-season encounter Wednesday night, which will mark the sixth successive meeting between the teams in San Antonio in which Golden State will be forced to play on the second night of a back-to-back. The Spurs, though, possess the league’s toughest remaining schedule according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, so don’t expect Gregg Popovich to suddenly tweak his philosophies and go chasing the top spot in the conference. San Antonio indeed still leads the league in games missed due to rest this season with 19, according to the folks at Pro Sports Transactions. That puts them six games ahead of Philadelphia’s 13 — 11 of which were rest games for Joel Embiid — with Cleveland in third at 10 (five belonging to LeBron James). The Spurs’ leaders in rest games, for the record, are Manu Ginobili (seven), Tony Parker (four) and LaMarcus Aldridge (four). After some shaky 9-for-24 shooting against his old friends from Portland in the first game back from his heart arrhythmia scare, Aldridge is averaging a promising 21.4 PPG and 7.8 RPG while shooting 52 percent from the floor in his past five games.

Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated – 3 (last week: 4)

After beating the Knicks on Saturday, the Spurs became the first team in NBA history ever to beat all 29 other teams in three consecutive seasons. Their remarkable consistency—and a four game win streak—has them pushing the Warriors for home court as we hit the final stretch.

Matt Moore, CBS Sports – 2 (last week: 2)

You should probably expect to see less and less of the Spurs’ starters, beginning this week. Golden State’s magic number for home court in the conference finals is eight. The Spurs have the Cavs and Warriors again this week. If they don’t make a push to get back into a scrap with the Warriors for the 1-seed, they’ll probably start shutting guys down. And then we’ll have more conversations about rest. Oh, goody.

Kurt Helin, NBC Sports – 2 (last week: 3)

Winners of four in a row, and this becomes the third straight season the Spurs have beat all other 29 teams in the NBA at least once in the regular season. No other team in NBA history has done that. If the Spurs don’t beat the Warriors Wednesday and close that gap for the No. 1 seed this week (and even if they do) expect Gregg Popovich to make sure his stars get rested heading into the playoffs.

Source: Pounding The Rock

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