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The Spurs have a shot at getting the fourth seed, but to get there they might have to ride their stars to exhaustion. Would it be worth it?
The Spurs’ nine-game winning streak completely changed their outlook. A couple of weeks ago the discussion centered on whether they were still a lock for the postseason after a disastrous Rodeo Road Trip. Now the concerns revolve around how much higher up the standings they can get.
At one point just avoiding the Warriors felt like a realistic goal. After their string of wins, now the fourth seed and homecourt advantage suddenly looks attainable. But should San Antonio go all out trying to climb up to the fourth seed?
The Spurs struggles on the road and excellence at home suggest they absolutely should. They are 27-8 at the AT&T Center and boast the eighth best net rating at home in the entire league. On the road, however, they’ve only managed to win 13 out of 35 games and have the 20th best net rating in the league and rank 28th in defensive rating. They have yet to beat any of the five teams currently ahead of them in the standings on the road but have a positive combined record against them, since only the Rockets have been able to beat them in San Antonio. Those numbers suggest the Spurs are comparable to the conference best teams at home, which is encouraging. They also suggest that they will absolutely need homecourt advantage if they hope to get past the first round.
Unfortunately getting to that fourth seed won’t be easy. The Spurs have the easiest remaining schedule out of any western team except for the Jazz, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get to blow out opponents. Their average margin of victory is a solid 11.8 points but they typically need their stars to play big minutes to secure wins. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan rank in the top 20 in total minutes played, in the top 30 in second half minutes played and in the top 50 on fourth quarter minutes played. In the current winning streak, which has included some blowouts, Aldridge is averaging a shade under 36 minutes a game and DeRozan a tick under 35 minutes. If they hope to make a push up the standings, the Spurs will need those two to carry them, like they have all season. That’ll mean playing heavy minutes.
In the coming weeks, the Spurs will have to make some tough decisions. With their ticket to the playoffs all but punched, do they continue to ride a nine-man rotation featuring their stars heavily in hopes of making a push for the fourth seed or do they reduced the stars minutes and open up the rotation to make sure every core player gets to the playoffs rested? There’s no easy answer, but the PtR staff offered its opinion and will love to hear yours in the comments.
Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t think they care about that as much as they do just continuing to win and find their best form by playoff time while letting the chips fall where they may. That being said, the remaining schedule isn’t set up in a way where they risk exhaustion if they do want to go for it, with only one back-to-back remaining (although the SEGABABA is in Denver), but pushing too hard for something beyond their control is not Pop’s way. This team has something special brewing at the moment, and I believe them when they say they are focused on themselves and not the standings right now.
Mark Barrington: Even if there was a magic switch that you could turn on to get a few more wins, I wouldn’t do it. In reality, the Spurs are going to try and win every game, while keeping everyone healthy and they aren’t going to worry that much about where they end up in the standings. Having said that, I really don’t see the Spurs landing in the top four in the west. I like to look at things through Spurs-colored glasses, but even looking through those, I can’t see a scenario that rosy.
Bruno Passos: Only to a degree. You don’t want to burn DeRozan out, because we’ve seen how his performance can dip when the team pushed his minute totals. Aldridge has looked a bit more resilient, but he also has limits. Keep with the 9-man rotation as much as possible, blow out the teams you should blow out so that the starters can rest in garbage time, and you should be fine. Luckily, the Spurs have less games left than most other teams, which should help.
Jesus Gomez: I’m tempted to say yes, because this team with homecourt advantage could actually make it past the first round. If somehow someone guaranteed me that playing the nine-man rotation only and giving DeRozan and Aldridge heavy minutes without rest going forward would definitely result in the Spurs getting the fourth seed, I’d say they should go for it. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee. The worst case scenario is the Spurs chasing homecourt advantage hard, falling short and going into the postseason with a tired DeRozan. I think they should continue to make their push, but the moment the fourth seed starts to feel unlikely, they should start thinking about rest.
J.R. Wilco: More than anything, I’d like them to play for the best matchup. For me, that means the 7 seed and playing the Denver Nuggets.
Source: Pounding The Rock