Just as the sun rises, the sports talking heads suggest at the beginning of each season that this is the year the Spurs finally miss the playoffs, but just as the suns sets, the Spurs still make the playoffs. It seems like Popovich is always able to squish whatever roster he has into a juicer and squeeze every last bit of productivity possible out of them, and then garnish it with some unexpected European talent. But this season is more worrisome than the others. With just 18 games remaining, the Spurs are 35-29 and clinging to a 3-game lead for the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Coming off a disastrous 1-7 road trip, the Spurs are looking shakier than ever and could miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Here are some things that were happening in 1997 when the NBA season finished. Gas was about $1.30/gallon; Backstreet Boys were set to release “Backstreet’s Back” and J.K. Rowling was about to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK; Bill Clinton had just been elected for his second term of Presidency and the public still didn’t know about Monica Lewinsky; Michael Jordan was on his way to winning his fifth title and the Spurs were eyeing Tim Duncan to take with the first overall pick of the upcoming draft (yeah, it was that bad).
Now in 2019, the Spurs find themselves in an interesting position. After trudging through an arduous 8-game road trip, the seas have parted some, with a remaining schedule ranked 9th easiest according to tankathon.com. But a closer look at that schedule reveals they have only 3 games remaining against true tanking teams, which could be an issue since the currently 9-seeded Kings have 7 such games. Perhaps more worrying is that the Spurs are yet to face an eight day stretch where they will play the Blazers, Warriors, Rockets, and Celtics, with a scrappy Heat team starting to find its form wedged in the middle. Should the Spurs falter and lose 4 of 5 during that span, paired with the Kings beating the teams they’re supposed to, the two teams could be neck and neck with 9 games left on the schedule.
Spurs faithful shouldn’t panic yet, and they probably won’t. At the end of the day they are still led by arguably the greatest coach of all time and two all-star level players in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs have proved they can play with anyone, having notched wins this season against true contenders like the Raptors and Warriors—it’s just a matter of rising to the occasion to finish out the season. And if there’s anything history has taught us, no matter how much the Spurs may tease us, you never bet against Pop.