What to keep in mind for the Spurs’ final 17 games

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO – It’s not how a team starts its season, but how they end it.

It’s safe to say that the Spurs’ glory days are behind them, given that the team lost a franchise record 16-straight games in 2023 and is set to miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

Perhaps fans were spoiled with the 22-straight seasons of making the playoffs or maybe by the five world championship wins in a 15 year stretch. But, despite San Antonio having the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, coach Gregg Popovich has a great opportunity to build positive momentum in the team’s final 17 games.

Keep improving while losing

Though a perplexing thought to lose in your profession, the best thing the Spurs can do is lose while maintaining a positive energy.

The NBA “rewards” the bottom three teams with the worst overall record with an equal 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the league’s draft. Heading into Friday’s game against the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, San Antonio has the third worst record, winning just 16 games and tallying 49 losses.

The fourth worst record in the NBA belongs to the Charlotte Hornets, who are 21-46. Still five games “better” than the Spurs, San Antonio would (secretly) want to lose to improve their draft chances.

The Spurs’ record can be misleading. Though far from a contender, San Antonio has been in a lot of close games, even against top-tier opponents. Whenever the Spurs get over the hump, they can use times like these to know how to win.

Before a team can learn how to win, they must learn how to lose. San Antonio’s 49 losses, and counting, are the perfect trial run for what’s to come.

With the odds, San Antonio would be anywhere from the first pick to the seventh. The more losses, the better.

What’s the goal?

Any team’s motive for the self-sabotaging season is to get the “must-have” draft prospect. For the 2023 season, 7-foot-2 Frenchman Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson are the talks of the league.

The quickest way to turn things around for an organization is to draft a star player to build around. Wembanyama and Henderson, who are already penciled in as the top two picks, would make the Spurs almost assuredly a playoff contender again.

Coach Popovich, whose tenure as the head coach may be dwindling now at age 74, is commended as a team-builder and can make the team’s current roster ready for either of the players.

With a young team already, the Spurs are going through growing pains now. 

Sochan, who was drafted ninth overall in 2022 and was the highest pick San Antonio has  had since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997, has shown All-Star potential. Both Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, who are one and two on the team in points per game, are key offensive pieces to help build around a star player who can take the team to the promised land.

With Johnson being the oldest of the three having was drafted only in 2019, the disappointing seasons can come as a learning experience.

On to Denver

The Spurs’ next game comes against the aforementioned Denver Nuggets.

Not only are the Nuggets (46-20) running away with the best record in the Western Conference, but they also have back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokić, who is currently making a case for a third straight.

“It’s gonna be fun. I love going against him,” Spurs forward Zach Collins said of the Serbian native. “When you look at him, you don’t think he might potentially be a three-time MVP, but he is, and he’s just very smart.

“And obviously, they’re the number one team in the west, so it’s a good challenge for everybody.”

San Antonio is currently on a full work week of practice, which has become a nefarious act in today’s game. 

The young team, however, is taking full advantage of the enactment.

The Spurs had several referees in Wednesday’s team practice, seemingly to give the group some good game repetition.

“We need it,” Collins said. “It’s for the young groups to get more reps, to learn more. Slow the game down. Stop the game when we need to. It’s huge for us.”

The Nuggets will be the first of six straight games at the AT&T Center.

With just 17 games left, fifth-year veteran Keita Bates-Diop wants to flip the script on the Spurs’ game momentum in Friday’s matchup.

 “We’ll be up a lot of games, or we’ll be close in a lot of games,” Bates-Diop said. “A missed offensive rebound, a three, a turnover, and now another three, and now a four-point game is now a 10-point game. 

“Against a good team, they’re not going to let that get close. We got to stay locked in the full 48 [minutes] and not let mistakes compound, essentially.”