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The San Antonio Spurs lost four straight games and 10 of 12 as they limped to the finish line of the regular season.
But looking lost and playing poorly doesn’t matter now, as a second chance begins Wednesday night when the Spurs visit the Memphis Grizzlies in an NBA play-in game.
The loser of Wednesday’s game is eliminated from playoff contention but the winner will play either the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors on Friday in hopes of landing the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff field.
And that is why recent losses of 32 points to the Utah Jazz, 22 points to the Portland Trail Blazers and 37 to the Phoenix Suns have been erased from the memory of the Spurs (33-39), who are in the 10th position in the West.
“This is an opportunity for us to go and try to capitalize on,” San Antonio guard DeMar DeRozan said. “Go out there and start with one game, get another game and see what happens from there.”
Memphis (38-34) experienced a different end of the season path as it won five straight games before losing its regular-season finale, 113-101 to the Golden State Warriors.
The No. 8 position was up for grabs against Golden State before the setback that left the Grizzlies in the No. 9 spot. Being No. 8 would have left Memphis in a win-and-you’re-in scenario where it now has to win back-to-back contests.
“We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves,” Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said. “Obviously, we know what’s at stake, we got to be ready. Our goal is to win so we’re not even thinking about losing that game.”
The way Memphis guard Dillon Brooks sees it, this is an acceptable scenario in terms of getting the club back to the postseason for the first time since the 2016-17 season. The Grizzlies were in a play-in game last season and lost to the Portland Trail Blazers to fall short of the postseason.
“We got two games to get to the playoffs, something that we had a goal at the beginning of the year to do,” Brooks said. “It’s right there so we go to keep our head down, let it sting for a little bit and on the 19th, we got San Antonio so it’s not going to be an easy game.”
But it wasn’t difficult for the Grizzlies when they visited San Antonio for back-to-back games on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. Memphis won by an average of 24 points.
Seven players scored 14 or more points when the Grizzlies recorded a 129-112 win in the opener and nine players scored in double digits in a 133-102 rout two nights later. Backup point guard Tyus Jones registered a career-best 14 assists in the latter win.
San Antonio won the first meeting, a 131-119 win in Memphis in the season opener for both teams on Dec. 23. DeRozan scored 28 points for the Spurs, while Morant poured in a career-best 44 points for the Grizzlies.
Getting back to the postseason is important for the Spurs because failing to make the playoffs last season ended an NBA record-tying streak of 22 straight appearances.
San Antonio isn’t interested in missing the postseason for a second straight season. The team also has recorded losing records in back-to-back campaigns for the time since a four-season run in the mid-to-late 1980s
“I am a winner, so this whole season is disappointing to me so far,” point guard Dejounte Murray said. “The last option is getting that play-in berth and doing what we can do to try and get in the playoffs.”
–Field Level Media