We have not seen a race for eighth like this within the West in many years

12:19 AM ET

Tim BontempsESPN


BOSTON — For greater than twenty years, there have been two common truths in regards to the Western Convention playoffs: The Spurs might be there, and groups with shedding data is not going to.

Each of these may change in 2020.


The Spurs would possibly nonetheless discover a solution to prolong their NBA-record streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 23 years in a row. They adopted a win over the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night time with a 129-114 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday to enhance their document to 16-20.

“Our themes have been the identical for, like, 23 years,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stated after Wednesday night time’s victory. “It does not change with each sport.

“Typically we do nicely, typically we do not.”

This season, the “don’ts” have occurred much more usually than the Spurs are used to. Extra importantly, they have been extra frequent than a crew within the West can sometimes afford whereas nonetheless hoping to succeed in the playoffs. Even after the 2 blowout wins this week, San Antonio continues to be 4 video games underneath .500. But the Spurs presently maintain the eighth and remaining playoff spot within the West, demonstrating how totally different this 12 months’s Western Convention playoff image is shaping up.

The final time West crew made the playoffs with a shedding document was 1996-97, the identical 12 months Popovich took over as coach for a lottery-bound San Antonio crew that went on to draft present Spurs assistant coach Tim Duncan with the highest total decide. That 12 months, the LA Clippers snagged the Eight-seed with a 36-46 document (and had been swept in three video games by the top-seeded Utah Jazz).

Since then, the Eight-seed within the West has had a median profitable share of .550, which equals a 45-37 document in an 82-game season. The convention’s ninth-best crew has averaged 42 wins over 82 video games.

“To see the dynamic of it change, it is simply loopy,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan stated. “I’ve seen the league change a lot. To see the Western Convention the place it’s now, it is simply one other one in every of them issues. Hopefully we are able to come out on high.”

The general futility among the many “contenders” for the eighth spot within the West implies that loads of groups that might usually be making trip plans for mid-to-late April and starting to collect fortunate charms for Might’s NBA draft lottery are as a substitute nonetheless dreaming of constructing the postseason.

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A few of them are taking part in higher of late. Along with San Antonio’s back-to-back wins, the Portland Path Blazers beat the defending champion Toronto Raptors on a game-winner by Carmelo Anthony Tuesday night time and the Memphis Grizzlies have gained 4 of their final 5 video games. Nonetheless, none of them are even near .500.

Groups just like the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves have all seen prolonged absences for high gamers. De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III have been out in Sacramento, Zion Williamson has but to debut in New Orleans and Karl-Anthony Cities hasn’t performed since Dec. 13 in Minnesota. These groups appeared utterly out of the playoff image. Now, all three are inside 4 video games of the eighth playoff spot.

“There’s all the time a variety of time,” Spurs guard Derrick White stated. “We did not overreact to the start of the 12 months. “There’s nonetheless time to, on the finish of the 12 months, get to the place we need to be.”

That hasn’t been the case up to now, not less than within the West. The identical cannot be stated for his or her counterparts within the Japanese Convention, who’ve benefited from a weaker convention that is repeatedly allowed worse groups entry to the postseason.

Over the previous 22 seasons, 12 groups have made the playoffs within the Japanese Convention with shedding data, in comparison with none within the West. In the meantime, there have been thrice — 2003-04, 2007-08 and 2014-15 — the place a number of groups made the postseason with a shedding document. This 12 months, by the way in which, is on tempo for that to occur as soon as once more.

The typical profitable share of the East’s eighth seed over that point interval has been .494 % — in comparison with the West’s ninth seed sporting a profitable share of .513.

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All of that has been gas for the cries of fixing the playoff construction, with a purpose to attempt to get the 16 greatest groups within the postseason. The league has repeatedly insisted the steadiness between conferences is cyclical. This 12 months, it seems they could lastly be confirmed proper.

The very fact no crew has been capable of separate from the pack on the backside of the West has allowed a number of groups to start to kind themselves out. San Antonio regarded left for useless two months in the past. However now LaMarcus Aldridge is again to taking part in like an All-Star massive, Lonnie Walker has been inserted into the rotation forward of Marco Belinelli and Dejounte Murray has begun to spherical into kind after lacking all of final season with a torn ACL.

“We have been extra constant defensively serving to one another, not making so many errors,” DeRozan stated. “After we do this, once we depend on the defensive finish to maintain us in video games it is simpler to discover a rhythm.”

The Spurs aren’t alone. The Pelicans have gained six of their previous eight, a run that has coincided with Derrick Favors resuming his regular minutes load, which immediately shored up their protection. Now Williamson’s debut is on the horizon, which ought to bolster New Orleans much more. The Blazers have gotten strong manufacturing from Anthony whereas they proceed to hold round and await Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to ship some much-needed reinforcements. The Grizzlies have seen their younger core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke take instant strides ahead.

Maybe, down the highway, one in every of them will even handle to make it to .500. Till that occurs, nonetheless, this season marks a brand new day for the Western Convention.

The query that continues to be is whether or not will probably be only one — or each — of these common truths that goes away by the point this common season involves an in depth.