The number 22 became pertinent to the plight of the San Antonio Spurs after they lost their seventh straight Wednesday, falling 138-132 to the Washington Wizards.
The club’s current seven-game freefall matches its longest in 22 years, dating back to Gregg Popovich’s first season as coach, when the Spurs suffered through skids of seven and eight games. Perhaps most alarming is that San Antonio’s NBA-record tying run of 22 straight postseason appearances might now be in jeopardy of ending in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
“It’s extremely frustrating, especially being on this losing streak,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led the Spurs with 31 points as one of the team’s eight double-figures scorers. “It sucks to lose. On the streak that we are on, every single game that we have lost has felt worse than the last one.”
The Spurs certainly worked behind the scenes to prevent this outcome.
Seeking an offensive spark after countless slow starts through the first 15 games, Popovich shook up the starting lineup Wednesday, opting for veteran reserve Patty Mills at point guard over DeJounte Murray, in addition to inserting Jakob Poeltl with the first team. The move netted a quick return, as San Antonio scored a season-high 69 points in the first half to go into intermission ahead six points.
DeRozan and Bryn Forbes combined for 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
“You know, we started out better. That’s what we wanted to do,” Popovich said. “Bad third quarter. All in all, if you score 132 points, you should probably have a pretty good chance to win a game. The bad news is if you give up 138, you’re probably not gonna [win]. I’m just a really smart guy. Yeah, I’m figuring that’s logical, right? You know, [giving up] 138 [points], it’s probably going to be tough to win that game.”
Popovich finished those remarks and took only one question.
He, like the rest of the Spurs, continues to search for answers.
San Antonio hasn’t lost seven straight since Feb. 23 to March 5, 1997, under Popovich, and the last time it had a longer drought was eight defeats from Nov. 15-30, 1996, under Bob Hill. It was during the next month that Popovich, the team’s general manager, fired Hill and moved from the front office to the sideline.
San Antonio finished 20-62, won the draft lottery and took Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick.
It’s a long season. We are worried about now. It’s not like we are 50 or 60 games in. It’s still early. Just as we are on this bad streak, we can start a positive streak as well.”
Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan
Washington inflicted most of its damage in the third quarter, thanks to 21 points from Bradley Beal, who produced his fourth-consecutive game with 30-plus points (33), the longest such streak of his career. The Wizards outscored San Antonio 38-29 in the third quarter, hitting a blistering 61.5% from the floor and 83.3% from deep (5-of-6).
Beal shot 3-of-9 in the first half before catching fire in the third quarter.
“A guy like that, I think he had like six points coming out of halftime,” DeRozan said. “A guy like that, you’ve got to expect him to turn it up, even if he misses shots.”
Added Mills: “No matter what he shoots in the first half, you know he is going to come out smoking in the second half, and that’s what he did.”
He wasn’t the only one. Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith and Moritz Wagner each knocked down 3-of-4 from 3-point range, while former Spur Davis Bertans hit 4-of-7. Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant also drained the only 3-pointers they attempted.
The Wizards would finish the game shooting 60% from behind the arc, which ranks as their best percentage from range of the season, not to mention the highest percentage in team history in a game in which they launched 30 or more attempts from deep.
Washington’s 138 points ranks as the most against the Spurs in Wizards’ history.
San Antonio’s latest setback marks the second consecutive loss in its current four-game road trip with matchups on the horizon Friday at Philadelphia, followed by a Saturday date with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The competition only intensifies when the Spurs return to the AT&T Center on Monday to host the Los Angeles Lakers, which boast the league’s best record (12-2).
The concern now is whether San Antonio has dug itself into an insurmountable hole that threatens to swallow up prospects for a 23rd-consecutive postseason berth.
“I don’t look at it that way,” DeRozan said. “It’s a long season. We are worried about now. It’s not like we are 50 or 60 games in. It’s still early. Just as we are on this bad streak, we can start a positive streak as well.”
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