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The Globe and Mail

San Antonio Spurs in an unusual spot: fighting for their playoff lives

San Antonio Spurs players sit on the bench during the second half an NBA game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Jeff Chiu/AP

This is the worst season for the San Antonio Spurs in the last 21 years.

They're on pace for only 46 wins.

ONLY 46 wins.

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That's a season fans in other many cities would celebrate wildly. Philadelphia hasn't won 46 games since 2002-03, Minnesota not since 2003-04, Sacramento not since 2004-05. Detroit hasn't had a 46-win season in the last decade. The Knicks have one in the last 17 seasons. Milwaukee reached it once in the last 16 seasons entering this year. Charlotte, once in the last 15 seasons. The Nets, once in the last 12 seasons.

But this is San Antonio, the silver-and-black standard for the league, where winning 55 or 60 games and making a deep playoff run is considered as much of an annual rite as the rodeo and the Texas Folklife Festival. And even after a blowout win over Orlando on Tuesday night, the Spurs (38-30) are still on the outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

No need to panic just yet. The Spurs are a mere one game in the loss column behind Oklahoma City, which is holding the No. 4 seed right now. Still, this is a most unusual situation for San Antonio.

"Everybody tries to be the best they can by playoff time," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "That'll be our goal too, to be in the playoffs and be as good as we can possibly be."

Here's how good the Spurs have been for so long: This will be the first season since 1996-97 where San Antonio won't finish with a winning percentage of at least .600.

This has been a strange year for the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard has barely played because of a leg injury, and the Spurs still aren't sure when he will return to the court — though there are indications it could be very soon. San Antonio has used 23 different starting lineups, none for more than 12 games, most being used for three or fewer.

It'll be an interesting finish.

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"It might look a little odd," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "But we know the Spurs well enough that in these exact type of situations is when they respond the most. When there's the most adversity, when people count them out and it looks bleak their culture, the coaching, the leadership, the veteran experience they have on that team tends to respond in a way that most organizations don't respond in these type of circumstances."

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