On the morning of Dec. 7, the San Antonio Spurs looked to be in serious trouble. Just four days prior (Dec. 3), FiveThirtyEight projections gave San Antonio just a three percent chance to make the NBA Playoffs and, with a record of 11-14 in the brutal Western Conference, it was reasonably difficult to see optimism on the horizon.
Since then, however, the Spurs have completely flipped the script, picking up wins over quality competition (Lakers, Sixers, Nuggets, Celtics, Raptors, etc.) and zooming into a fantastic spot with regard to playoff positioning. Gregg Popovich’s team owns a 13-3 record during that time period and, in case that wasn’t impressive enough, the Spurs own by far the best net rating (+15.4) in the NBA.
The trade of Kawhi Leonard and, to a lesser extent, the injury loss of Dejounte Murray placed Popovich and his team in a tough position. San Antonio still boasts a pair of All-Stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan but, on the other end of the floor, the team’s defense has holes when it comes to personnel and, even with real offensive talent, it wasn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing group. Still, the Spurs have been absolutely lights-out during this stretch, posting an obscene 118.0 offensive rating and generally lighting the NBA on fire in the process.
Is this new level sustainable for the Spurs? Probably not. The same FiveThirtyEight projections now place San Antonio in a (much) more favorable position (51 percent playoff chance) but there is still plenty of work to be done and, simply put, no team can connect on the shots this squad is getting with the frequency in which they are doing so at the moment. With that said, it is oddly comforting to have the Spurs back and playing the part of a likely playoff entry in the West, and there is no denying the work they’ve been putting in during this run.
Where does San Antonio rank in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s check it out.
1. Toronto Raptors (30-12, Last week — 4th)
By virtue of a head-to-head win over Milwaukee (on the road), the Raptors snag the top spot this week. Toronto did lose to San Antonio in high-profile fashion along the way but that was an exceptionally weird atmosphere on a number of levels. To drive the point home, the Raptors finished the week by knocking off the scalding hot Pacers by 16 points. That’ll do.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (28-11, Last week — 2nd)
Mike Budenholzer’s team has won 10 of 12, including a name-the-score drubbing of Atlanta and a nice win over Utah this week. As noted above, the only thing keeping the Bucks from the top spot was a home loss to Toronto but, in terms of the metrics, Milwaukee’s been the best team in the NBA this season and it isn’t particularly close.
3. Indiana Pacers (26-13, Last week — 1st)
We gushed over the Pacers last week in this space and they earned all of that praise. Indiana’s most recent result wasn’t great in a 16-point loss to Toronto but it isn’t as if that is a black mark on their overall profile. They’ve been fun.
4. Golden State Warriors (26-14, Last week — 3rd)
The Warriors receive the benefit of the doubt more than any team in the league (for obvious reasons) and I acknowledge that. In fact, they are the only team that can lose 3 of 6 and essentially stay put near the top in these rankings. But, well, here they are again after a road win over the Kings.