Spurs, Thunder expect playoff intensity (Mar 28, 2018)

March 28, 2018

There will be playoff fever and intensity aplenty when the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder square off on Thursday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, and that's a good thing.

The game is especially crucial to San Antonio's playoff hopes and its chance at continuing its run of 20 straight trips to the postseason. The Spurs (43-32) have lost two straight, most recently 116-106 on the road Tuesday to Washington in a game that was not as close as the final score indicates.

If the playoffs started today, the Spurs would be in the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But there are seven games left for San Antonio, including four against teams that are above it in the standings and one versus a squad that's chasing it.

San Antonio played the entire second half of the loss to Washington without LaMarcus Aldridge, its leading scorer this season. Aldridge had 13 points when he suffered a left knee contusion late in the first half. Despite the fact Aldridge did not return, he still ended up as the Spurs' leading scorer for the game.

"Considering the way he's been playing and our recent success in those games, we are at the point where if LaMarcus gets a cough or a cold, we are in deep trouble," Spurs veteran guard Manu Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News.

"Hopefully, it's not serious because it's going to be really tough to score without him and we have tough games against teams that need to win. We really need him."

Aldridge has already been listed as questionable for Thursday's game.

The Spurs led by as many as nine points in the second quarter of Tuesday's loss but succumbed to a 16-1 run that turned the game. Washington outscored San Antonio 67-42 in the second and third quarters combined, turning a three-point Spurs lead after the first quarter into a 22-point Wizards bulge going inito the fourth quarter.

"The Wizards wanted to prove something -- to play hard and play together and play the game the right way," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "As far as we're concerned, it was a poor example of mental toughness and no real discipline. Excuses and lack of communication were factors tonight. Our guys should be embarrassed."

The Thunder (in fourth place in the West standings at 44-31) look to get their eighth win in 10 games as they face the Spurs for the fourth and final time this season on the first night of a back-to-back. Oklahoma City has won ithe past two matchups, including a 90-87 victory on Dec. 3 and a 104-94 victory on March 10.

Oklahoma City is currently one of just four teams in the league to be in the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (Golden State, Houston, Toronto) and head to the Alamo City on the heels of a 108-105 home loss to Portland on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder in the loss with 23 points and Steven Adams notched a double-double of 18 points and a team-leading 10 boards.

Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Portland reserves 36-8, led by Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton. Grant produced 17 points and Felton finished with 11.

But Portland outrebounded Oklahoma City 49-39 and limited the Thunder to nearly five fewer second-chance points than its season average of 14.9.

"The difference in the game was the rebounding," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "What ends up happening is when you've got two guys on the ball, when shots go up, you've got to be able to rotationally block out."

Six of Oklahoma City's final seven games are against teams either in the playoffs or vying for a spot in the postseason.

"We've gotta work to get to the playoffs," Donovan said. "There's a huge logjam from three to 10. I'm more concerned with us getting better and fixing things we have control over and do that we need to do to get better."