How Helpful Is San Antonio Spurs' Momentum for the NBA Playoffs?

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How Helpful Is San Antonio Spurs' Momentum for the NBA Playoffs?
Eric Gay
San Antonio has basically been all smiles for two months, but how much will that help its postseason goal?

The San Antonio Spurs recently ripped off a 19-game winning streak, beating the likes of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors and building momentum for the 2014 playoff run.

After stringing together consecutive wins for nearly one-quarter of an entire season, the Spurs have once again proved themselves one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

During the entirety of the stretch, Kawhi Leonard was the only player who averaged more than 30 minutes per game, according to Randy Renner of NBA.com. San Antonio's three veterans—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili—notched just 28.6, 27.6 and 22.0 minutes each night.

Head coach Gregg Popovich was able to effectively limit each player's minutes, and more importantly, San Antonio kept winning.

However, though the Spurs' success in the win column is impossible to dismiss, the long stretch of continual victory means very little for the postseason.

"When you look at [the streak] on the whole," ESPN's Matthew Tynan said, "rarely did they deal with playoff-like situations throughout those 19 games."

He continued:

"While it helped maintain a certain distance in the standings between the Spurs and the second seed and saw them build a rhythm they hadn't fully grasped for much of the season prior to it, the streak itself does not mean a ton in terms of building momentum toward the playoffs."

Looking at the schedule, San Antonio's opponents included the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets. Or also known as 10 of the NBA's 12 worst teams, against whom Pop's team won 11 times.

Sure, the Spurs knocked off Miami, Indiana, Portland and a few other playoff-bound franchises, but only eight contests came against such teams. Granted, San Antonio dominated every night, winning by a staggering 16.3 points per game.

But the overall lack of competition—partly due to the Spurs' collective ability along with an opponent's weaknesswas actually affecting the team.

"The longer the streak went, the more uncomfortable Popovich and his players became," Tynan said. "They talked about the importance of losing games, learning lessons and having to bounce back, something they weren't necessarily experiencing during the run."

Think about this: Leonard returned on Feb. 26 when San Antonio hosted the Detroit Pistons, and the Spurs kicked off their long winning streak that night. Since suffering a fractured finger against Oklahoma City on Jan. 22, the first time in 75 days Leonard had to "bounce back" was after San Antonio's recent loss to OKC.

Ah, yes, that pesky Thunder team.

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Let's take a moment to remember how the 19-game stretch was bookended by losses to Oklahoma City. San Antonio carried momentum into the April 3 meeting at the Chesapeake Energy Arena...and proceeded to lose by 12 points.

Back on May 31, 2012, OKC halted the Spurs' 20-game winning streak, which was comprised of 10 regular-season and 10 playoff contests. San Antonio had not dropped a game since April 11, 2012—a span of 50 days—and then dropped four straight to exit the postseason.

Would those playoffs have been any different had the Spurs lost a game before the end of the regular season or early in the postseason? Frankly, it's two years later, and it doesn't matter.

With that being said, the momentum the 2011-12 team carried into late May was not enough to overcome the Thunder—nor will it be this year.

Bleacher Report's Garrett Jochnau said, "San Antonio has unparalleled confidence right now, though that won't be enough to take down OKC. They'll need to find something else to beat them."

Per Tynan, starting shooting guard Danny Green said:

I feel we're in a good place … obviously we're not exactly where we want to be. Last year was a different season for us. We started building momentum as we were in the playoffs, and I think it's better for us to build momentum before we get to the playoffs. Right now we’re moving in a pretty good direction.

Green is certainly correct, because building momentum as the postseason arrives is undoubtedly valuable. The Spurs dropped eight of their final 13 games last season before finding a rhythm and winning 13 of the next 15 in the postseason.

This year, even with a handful remaining, San Antonio has already emerged victorious in seven of its final 13 contests. However, while it doesn't hurt, "moving in a pretty good direction" is not a necessary condition of a championship run.

The crucial factor of the streak's timing was key to San Antonio distancing itself record-wise from the Thunder and locking up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Without it, Pop's squad would have been engaged in a daily battle for the No. 1 seed during the season's final games.

But any momentum the Spurs took from the stretch of victories will only be a distant memory during the postseason, especially if San Antonio meets Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals.

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats taken from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference. Accurate as of April 7, 2014.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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