San Antonio Spurs: The 10 Most Important Games Remaining On the Schedule
With the "second half" of the season (if you really want to call it that) coming up, the Spurs have 26 games left to prepare for a championship run through the playoffs.
They enter the final stretch with a more comfortable lead in the conference (six games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks) and league (four games ahead of the Boston Celtics) than they could have imagined.
They have been as consistent as ever, with their worst 10-game stretch currently being 7-3 after going 6-3 in nine road games in 17 days. Not bad at all, but the one thing the Spurs cannot afford to do is let other teams gain momentum on them heading into the playoffs.
Here are the 10 most important games remaining on their schedule. That includes 14 home games and 15 against currently playoff bound teams. (Note: that includes both the Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz, which are currently tied for the eighth seed in the West.)
Feb. 23: Oklahoma City Thunder
Opponent Info: First in Northwest Division, fourth in West.
The Spurs will begin the final stretch of the regular season, with their first home game in nearly four weeks, against the league's top scorer: Kevin Durant.
It's always tough to regain momentum after such a long (but much needed) break, and the young Thunder will be looking to gain momentum heading into the playoffs.
Tied for third in the West with the Lakers and only three games back from Dallas, OKC has a decent chance of grabbing the second seed and will be pushing to do so.
Already playing with a target on their backs, the Spurs cannot afford to start the final stretch with a loss.
March 1: At Memphis Grizzlies
Opponent Info: Fourth in Southwest Division, tied for eighth in West.
It will be the second meeting in three nights against the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies. They have given the Spurs issues lately by providing some stubborn defense and mismatches.
They are on the rise and will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. They have already worked through some inner-team issues to become one of the hottest in the league.
The Spurs cannot give up games to an inferior division opponent, especially with three meetings between them left and a potential first-round matchup looming.
March 4: Miami Heat
Opponent Info: First in Southeast Division, second in East.
After waiting nearly the entire season for this matchup, it's time to prove that the whole is better than the sum of the parts.
With both games against the star-studded Heat coming in a 10-day stretch, it is important to show them who's boss at home, especially with a possible meeting in the Finals.
The Heat are relatively weak outside of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, especially compared to the Spurs, which have one of the deepest benches in the league.
All the Spurs have to do to win is expose Miami's weak bench and post players by playing good defense, rebounding and keeping their role players at bay.
March 16: Los Angeles Lakers
Opponent Info: First in Pacific Division, third in West.
The Lakers are always a tough matchup and, face it, they're the defending champions and will be until someone dethrones them.
Currently sitting at third in the West with easy potential to fall to fourth, the Lakers know they need to be more consistent to avoid losing home-court advantage after the first round.
They need some kind of confidence builder for the final stretch, and what better way than to get a game or two back from those annoying small-market Spurs that just won't go away?
March 18: At Dallas Mavericks
Opponent Info: Second in Southwest Division, second in West.
The end of a tough two-week stretch for the Spurs that includes the Heat (twice), Lakers and Houston Rockets will conclude with the final regular-season game against arch-rival Dallas.
Had they not lost Dirk Nowitzki for a tough 11-game stretch that included two games against the Spurs, the Mavs would likely be challenging them for the top spot.
It's pretty unlikely they will catch up with just 26 games remaining, but both teams have proven they can beat each other in a seven-game series without home-court advantage.
One thing the Spurs have yet to prove this season is that they can beat the Mavs at full strength. This is the last chance to do it before another playoff series that would have a lot more at stake than simply advancing to the second round.
March 23: At Denver Nuggets
Opponent Info: Third in Northwest Division, seventh in West.
Notice anything missing? That's right. Carmelo Anthony (among others) is gone, the Nuggets will have a vastly different roster for this meeting and they will be fighting for their playoff lives.
Don't get me wrong, but they already have Utah, Memphis and Phoenix breathing down their necks, so it's not like they weren't already in trouble.
They might even be better with all the stress and distractions from the season-long trade saga ending. The additions of Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler will nicely fill the voids left by Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
The Nuggets will be re-focused and ready to go, so the Spurs can expect them to give their best shot and exact a little revenge from their last meeting at the Pepsi Center. Watch out Manu Ginobili!
March 25: At Portland Trail Blazers
Opponent Info: Second in Northwest Division, fifth in West.
Injured, cursed and depleted, no one shows more heart and soul than the Portland Trail Blazers, which contentiously manage to win despite sometimes having only eight or nine available players.
Even though they currently hold the fifth spot in the West, they're only three games ahead of 10th-place Phoenix, so they'll have to keep winning in the tightly contested West.
As a potential first or second round matchup, it does not bode well that the Spurs have lost five straight games in Portland. Now would be the time to rectify that issue and not give up winnable games.
March 31: Boston Celtics
Opponent Info: First in Atlantic Division, first in East.
It will be a battle of teamwork in a very possible Finals prelude. The Spurs were just one blocked Manu miracle shot away from winning in Boston on the second night of a back-to-back in January.
They will be looking to exact a little revenge on the only team to hand them a second consecutive loss this season, as well as gain some momentum in the series.
Should they meet in the Finals, the Spurs will likely have home-court advantage and need to prove they can beat Paul Pierce and Co. at home.
April 12: At Los Angeles Lakers
Opponent Info: First in Pacific Division, third in West.
The first game of a tough back-to-back to end the season begins with another trip to LA against another team hoping to get some home-court revenge.
Whether or not the Lakers are at the top of their game by then remains to be seen, but you can bet they will give all they have to show they can beat the Spurs heading into the playoffs.
The last thing the Spurs want to do is give them hope and momentum before a potential second or third-round series. This is also both teams' last chances to prove their worth in the regular season, so expect another dog fight.
April 13: At Phoenix Suns
Opponent Info: Second in Pacific Division, 10th in West.
The last game of the season can go several ways. It can be a meaningless game in which the Spurs have nothing to gain and will rest the starters.
It could be a tightly-contested game with the Suns fighting to make the playoffs or to improve their seeding and the Spurs looking to hold on to the top.
It could be the last game of the season for the Suns which would love nothing more than to finish it off by beating the Spurs.
It could even be that the next four-to-seven games the Spurs play will be against the same team that swept them last year. If that is the case, they will not want give the Suns any reason to believe going into the playoffs.
The Spurs have a tough schedule ahead of them, but if they continue to stay healthy and play at the pace they have been for the entire season, they should be just fine heading into the playoffs seeking that fifth championship.