Will the San Antonio Spurs Make the Playoffs? Investigating the Chances

As the San Antonio Spurs get ready to hit the hardwood following the All-Star break, their record-tying streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy of ending. With a record of 23-31, the Spurs are four and a half games behind the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies (28-27). Not only do the Spurs need to leapfrog over the Grizzlies, they also find themselves behind the Portland Trail Blazers (25-31) by a game.

San Antonio’s chances to advance to the postseason took a major hit when they began the 2020 Rodeo Road Trip with five consecutive losses. While they were able to win their last game prior to the All-Star break — a 114-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder — the Spurs have lost eight of their previous 11 contests.

As the Spurs have struggled, the Grizzlies have excelled. Since Jan. 4, Memphis has gone 15-5. The Grizzlies started 6-16 but with young studs Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. leading the way, they are undoubtedly a serious contender to make the playoffs.

The Trail Blazers, who made the 2019 Western Conference Finals, have been a disappointment for much of the season. They’ve dealt with a number of injuries, the latest being a Damian Lillard groin strain that will cause him to miss multiple games coming out of the break. Portland, though, has various reasons to be optimistic. Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza have fortified their starting unit, while big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are expected to return before the end of the season. Additionally, the Blazers won six of their last ten games heading into the All-Star break, so they have some momentum.

Along with the Grizzlies, Blazers and Spurs, the other Western Conference team that has a legitimate chance to make the postseason is the New Orleans Pelicans. At 23-32, the Pelicans are only a half game behind the Spurs. With Zion Williams, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, healthy and playing extremely well, the Pelicans will be a dangerous team down the stretch. In Williamson’s last eight games, New Orleans is 5-3 including blowout victories over the Boston Celtics, Grizzlies and Blazers.

What are San Antonio’s Chances of Making the Playoffs?

Most statistical models don’t believe in the Spurs. ESPN gives the Spurs a 16.2% chance, which trails the Blazers (41.9%), Grizzlies (23.5%) and the Pelicans (16.9%). At Basketball-Reference, San Antonio is given a 10.6% chance, which is below the Grizzlies (43.1%), Blazers (25.0%) and Pelicans (19.4%). The odds for the Spurs look bleakest at FiveThirtyEight, where they are given just a 3% chance to advance to the playoffs — far behind the Pelicans (53%), Blazers (29%) and Grizzlies (12%).

Another way to gauge San Antonio’s chances is to look at NBA betting odds. Unfortunately, that also paints a pessimistic picture for the Spurs. Per SBD, these nba championship odds show the Spurs as extreme longshots, even when compared to the teams they are competing against for the final playoff spot in the West. San Antonio’s odds are currently +45000, which translates to a 450-to-1 chance of winning the championship. That’s far behind the Blazers (100-to-1), Pelicans (163-to-1) and Grizzlies (233-to-1).

Reasons for the Spurs to Be Optimistic About Their Playoff Chances

If you want reasons to believe that the Spurs have a chance to extend their playoff streak to a 23rd season, there are a few facts that can provide hope. First of all, San Antonio’s point differential of -1.3 is superior to that of Memphis (-1.4), New Orleans (-1.5) and Portland (-1.9). Given their point differential, the Spurs have an expected record of 25-29 — two games better than their current record. As the season winds down, San Antonio is due for a couple more close games to go their way.

Secondly, while the Grizzlies sit in the eighth seed, they face a very difficult schedule the rest of the way. In fact, it’s by far the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA. They still have two games against the Los Angeles Lakers, two against the Toronto Raptors, and one each against the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. The Spurs, by comparison, don’t play any of those teams again the rest of the way.

San Antonio plays the 11th easiest schedule over their final 28 games. Unfortunately, the Pelicans have the easiest remaining schedule and the Blazers have the fifth easiest remaining schedule, so the Grizzlies are the only team the Spurs can count on to face a more difficult road from here on out.

The final reason to have some optimism regarding the Spurs and the playoffs is the stretch of home games San Antonio will enjoy after the end of the Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs first get a three-game homestand. After a three-game road trip, they return home to play six of their next seven games at home. 

Last season, the Spurs were able to win nine straight games following the Rodeo Road Trip, mostly due to a schedule heavy on home games. If history can repeat itself this season and San Antonio can string together another long winning streak, the Spurs could find themselves right back in the thick of the playoff race heading into April.