Spurs come up empty on road trip, leaving them in an unfamiliar position

From ESPN - March 12, 2018

HOUSTON -- No Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili meant no chance Monday in Houston for the San Antonio Spurs, who closed out a brutal three-game road trip with a third consecutive loss, falling 109-93 to the Rockets.

Veteran point guard Tony Parker leaned back against a grease board in the postgame locker room and let out an uneasy laugh.

"Been winning for a lot of years," he said. "Since I have been in the league, I have made eight conference finals, five NBA Finals. We have been winning a lot. But this year, there's been a lot of injuries. We just have to find a way to try to qualify for the playoffs."

Not an easy proposition for the Spurs, who find themselves now out of the postseason picture and out of the top eight in the Western Conference standings this late in the season for the first time since before they drafted Tim Duncan (1997), with matchups on tap at home Tuesday against the Orlando Magic, followed by a trio of minefields in the New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors. It's expected that by the time the Spurs host the Pelicans on Thursday they will have Leonard back in the lineup.

But he's played in just nine games all season. So nobody's expecting imminent rescue by Leonard, even though his elite skill set suggests he probably could save San Antonio's season.

"I saw the reports that say he wants to come back Thursday," Parker said. "So it will be 14 games left. It is what it is. We will try to do our best. I know everybody wants to keep fighting. There's a lot of character on this team. If Kawhi comes back, hopefully he can help us. We know it's not going to be easy. He did not play for like two months. It's going to be a tough situation regardless, but we will try to do the best we can."

The loss to the Rockets left San Antonio sitting at 10th in the West behind the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, teams that occupy the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 spots. The Jazz own the tiebreaker with the Spurs, while a tiebreaker with Denver will come down to both teams' final conference records.

The Spurs are on pace to win just 45 games.

"We are in a position now where we have dropped," veteran center Pau Gasol said. "We have lost a few in a row, and now, there's no margin for error anymore. Before, it was slim. Now, there is none. So now we have just got to go out there, and compete and win."

Once Leonard comes back, several concerns undoubtedly will surface. Will Leonard play on a minutes restriction? For how long? How will Leonard feel once he actually plays an actual NBA game for the first time in a little more than two months?

Considering the Spurs have played 58 games without Leonard on the floor, it's reasonable to question how the star forward will affect the team's chemistry upon his return. Then, finally, with just 15 games remaining, is that enough time for San Antonio to jell and capture enough victories down the homestretch to qualify for the postseason?


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