The picture is beginning to clear up for the San Antonio Spurs and their status regarding the NBA’s play-in tournament that includes the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth seeds in each conference. Despite going 2-6 in their last eight games, the Spurs are getting extremely close to clinching the tenth seed in the Western Conference and the corresponding spot in the tournament.
What Do the Spurs Need to Do to Clinch the Spot?
At 33-35, the Spurs have a 2.5-game lead on both the New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings in the standings. Both the Pelicans and the Kings have a record of 31-38. Importantly, San Antonio holds the tie-breaker over both New Orleans and Sacramento. With the NBA playing a 72-game schedule this season, that means the Spurs have four games remaining, while the Pelicans and Kings have only three games remaining.
To clinch a spot in the play-in tournament, the Spurs need only one more win. Their first opportunity to clinch is tonight against the Brooklyn Nets. If the Spurs beat the Nets, they’re spot in the play-in tournament is guaranteed.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the Spurs have a difficult final four games of the season. If they lose to the Nets, their final three games aren’t any easier. Next up would be Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks — a team fighting for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. If the Spurs lose that one too, their final two chances for wins would be Saturday and Sunday against a Phoenix Suns team that is currently the second seed in the West.
Would Losing All Four Games Eliminate the Spurs?
The Spurs could lose all four games and still make it to the play-in tournament. In fact, it’s highly likely that San Antonio would still clinch a spot even if they lose all their remaining games. That’s because the Pelicans and Kings need to go undefeated from here on out to stay alive.
Injuries have decimated the Pelicans. Currently, they’re without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Steven Adams and Lonzo Ball — arguably all four of their four best players. Winning any games without those players will be difficult. Winning all three of their remaining games would be miraculous.
As for the Kings, even though they’ve won six of their last seven games (their only loss was to the Spurs), their issue is a difficult schedule. Sacramento plays the Grizzlies twice in Memphis — and the Grizzlies still have a chance to move from the ninth seed to the eighth seed, so they’ll be highly motivated. In their last game of the season, the Kings host the Utah Jazz — the team with the best record in the NBA. Sacramento has a better chance than New Orleans of sweeping their final three games, however it’d be really, really difficult to pull that off.
Can the Spurs Move Up from the Tenth Seed?
It’s theoretically possible — but, in reality, it’s not going to happen. The only team the Spurs can hop over is the Grizzlies. Since the Golden State Warriors hold the tie-breaker over the Spurs, San Antonio can’t catch them even though it’d be possible for both teams to finish with the same record.
As for catching the Grizzlies, the Spurs would need to win their final four games and the Grizzlies would need to lose their final three games. That’s not a realistic outcome, so it’s safe to say the Spurs will be the tenth seed.
How Do the Spurs Make the Playoffs?
As the tenth seed in the play-in tournament, the Spurs will need to win two games to advance to the real, genuine NBA playoffs. First, they’ll need to beat the ninth seed on the road. The ninth seed will either be the Grizzlies or the Warriors.
If the Spurs win that game, they’ll play the loser of the game between the seventh and eighth seeds in the West. In addition to the Grizzlies or the Warriors, that could also be the Portland Trail Blazers, the Dallas Mavericks or even the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
On one hand, it sounds unlikely that a Spurs team with a sub-.500 record could win two straight road games to make the playoffs. Especially factoring in the way they’ve played recently.
On the other hand, it’d be unwise to totally dismiss their chances. They’ve played better on the road all season long, so it’s actually an advantage that both games will be on the road. Additionally, all the pressure will be on the opponents. San Antonio will be counted out before the play-in tournament even tips off, so a care-free Spurs team could surprise a team desperate to avoid a disappointing home loss with their season on the line.
If the Spurs survive the play-in tournament and make the playoffs, they’d play the top seed in the West in the first round, which will either be the Jazz or the Suns.