While both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t seem like they’re taking their game against the San Antonio Spurs any less seriously than usual, Gregg Popovich showed he’s all about the playoffs from this point onward, resting Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili, deciding it’s not worth exhausting his key players or putting them at the risk of injury chasing the untouchable Golden State Warriors.
Steve Kerr spoke this week about the option of resting his players with the NBA regular season record for wins waiting for them at the end of the rainbow. Kerr said it’s up to them to decide whether they want to rest or go for it. While resting could put them in a better position heading into the playoffs, their place in history suggests they’re good enough to do well in the postseason even with that final push. An opportunity to do something no one has done since 1996 is simply too difficult to pass on, and probably isn’t going to hurt them in the grand scheme of things.
So the Spurs, a team that recently beat the Warriors and have two games in April against them, keep everyone guessing. They have a better net rating than the Warriors and trump them in a few other statistical categories. Maybe Popovich will care about those games, but when they picked up their 11th loss (now at 61-12 following getting bulldozed by the Thunder, 111-92), he decided enough is enough, and there’s no reason to chase something they probably can’t catch up with.
The Thunder? The Spurs aren’t worried about the Thunder. Even with this win, Oklahoma City are 10 games behind the Spurs and if the two teams meet in the playoffs, it’ll be in the conference semifinals, with the Spurs owning home court advantage. While the Spurs have been knocked out in the past by the Thunder (2012 WCF), it seems that the adjustments over the years and the stagnation in the Thunder’s offense and overall development makes San Antonio feel quite comfortable about facing them in the playoffs, especially with home court advantage.
There’s not a whole lot to play for in the upper echelon of the West. The Warriors are playing against history and the 1995-1996 Bulls. The Spurs are a lock at #2, and the Thunder simply need to avoid some collapse in order to fend off the Los Angeles Clippers, six games behind them. The Memphis Grizzlies look quite solid at number 5 too, although with their injury crisis, it’s hard to tell. The interesting things are happening at 6-7-8-9 with the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks, currently out of the playoff picture.
An interesting thing about the Spurs: In their five NBA championships, they were the #1 seed in the West three times, once a #2 seed (2004-2005) and once a #3 seed (2006-2007). However, in all of their Finals series, they had home court advantage. In their only loss in the NBA finals (2013 against the Miami Heat), they didn’t have home court advantage. Unless something earth shattering happens, they’re going to play without home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors.