From top to bottom, the teams in the Western Conference playoff chase know their fortunes (and seeding) can change between now and the season's final night on April 11. While the chasm between the West-leading Houston Rockets and No. 2-seeded Golden State Warriors and the rest of the playoff squads is vast, the teams in seeds No. 3-8 continue to jostle for spots.
And for the first time in a long time, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in the midst of the dogfight of teams just trying to get a playoff spot.
At the All-Star break, the Spurs were 35-24 and held the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Since then, they are 2-6 and are No. 10 in the West after last night's 109-93 loss to the Rockets. The Spurs are in this No. 10 spot because the Utah Jazz (No. 8 seed) and Denver Nuggets (No. 9) own tiebreakers over San Antonio.
San Antonio's playoff hopes are far from dashed and the Spurs are buoyed by several facts: that injured All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard may soon return, that 10 of their final 15 games (and their next six games) are at AT&T Center and that they have a muscle-memory of sorts when it comes to making the playoffs.
Overall, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs aren't fretting their situation. At the same time, they are being realistic about what to expect from themselves:
"I know everybody wants to keep fighting," Tony Parker said. "We have a lot of character on this team."
"Our mindset is to go out tomorrow and make sure we win a game and build some momentum and gain some confidence because it hasn't been easy," Pau Gasol said. "It's not easy to lose under any circumstance, so we have to dig in and trust in each other and go out there and make sure we take care of business at home.
"After that, it's win out every single night you go out there, and bust your butt, and compete your hardest and hope that's good enough...to move up."
"It is strange, real strange," the Rockets' Chris Paul, who had 18 points and nine assists, said of seeing the Spurs struggle. "But without Kawhi, that's tough. They've missed a number of guys (to injuries), but if anybody will find a way it's Pop. Pop will find a way."
"I saw reports that say he wants to come back Thursday, and that will be 14 games left," Parker said. "It is what it is. We will try to do our best... Hopefully, when Kawhi comes back he can helps us. We know it is not going to be easy because he hasn't played for two months now."
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