TWO more wins will suffice. Then we can officially edit the record books once again and increase the San Antonio Spurs record streak of making the NBA Playoffs toward a 22nd consecutive season.
Consistency in motion. Even without the Big Three, even minus Kawhi Leonard, the league’s great winning machine has kept the cogs turning and kept its fires burning, maybe no longer contenders but still savagely competitive.
Surely on Thursday, they will take that small step closer towards absolute confirmation in the post-season when they host the calamitous Cleveland Cavaliers.
A night when the focus will be on retiring the jersey of Manu Ginobili. Victory – with the visitors priced at an astonishing 8.50 for the upset – seems a passing concern.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 28, 2019
Currently eighth in the West with seven games remaining in the regular season, the Spurs could theoretically still crack the top three and with an ultra-soft schedule to finish, moving up a couple of places is far from an improbability.
Their only certain playoff-bound foe to come is the Denver Nuggets in a possible playoff rehearsal. On Monday, they can deliver a knockout blow to the Sacramento Kings, their lone remaining threat.
But as Gregg Popovich delivers another masterclass in the art of tailoring his suits to fit, now we wonder if the Spurs can not just savour another protracted season but extend it beyond the first round.
If San Antonio somehow were to end up with home advantage in the first round (odds: slim), then hope might abound.
Only the Milwaukee Bucks have a better record on their own floor. At 29-8, the Spurs have profited from sleeping in their own bed.
Yet they are not the road warriors of old. And there lies a problem which even the sagely Popovich has not been able to resolve.
On their floor, San Antonio are ninth-ranked in defensive efficiency and fifth in points conceded at an average of 105.8 (Indiana is top at a stupendous 99.99).
On their travels, all change. Ranked 26th in (in)efficiency, they are giving up 114.7 per night. All of which translates into a net differential of +7.2 points at home but -4.1 away, a real post-Leonard makeover when you consider they were the second-ranked road defence just last season.
Yet there is, at least, some momentum in their favour. Pre-All Star, the Spurs were conceding an average of 111.4 points but that has dropped dramatically afterward, to 106.6 per contest.
A key factor in the nine-game winning streak that transformed their campaign, albeit now followed by three losses out of four including Tuesday’s overtime reverse at Charlotte, when Popovich was highly critical of another slip in standards.
Cleveland, who possess a league-worst six road triumphs, should be easy pickings although they have only lost once by more than ten points in their previous six appearances.
The Spurs will pay tribute to Ginobili and then aim to maintain a tradition he helped set, to be hanging around in May, still fighting.
Best bet: Go under 213.5 total points in San Antonio – Cleveland at 2.40
The Oklahoma City Thunder appear vulnerable to a drop into eighth spot in the Western Conference with a tough run-in that includes meetings with Denver, the LA Lakers, Houston, Milwaukee, Detroit and Minnesota.
Sunday brings to the Dallas Mavericks to OKC although the visitors are completing their campaign in a fortnight, they remain a consistent competitive threat.
Headed into this weekend, the Thunder have recorded only a single victory by ten points or more since routing Memphis on February 10, so it’s worth a look at the Mavs at +8.5 on the handicap.