If the San Antonio Spurs are going to continue their impressive string of playoff appearances, they likely will need to win their final two games of the NBA’s reworked regular season.
The Spurs (31-38) look to take the first step on Tuesday afternoon against the Lone Star State-rival Rockets (44-25) near Orlando, and Houston will be down some serious manpower.
Guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle) won’t play in Tuesday’s game, the Rockets announced Monday.
There will be a play-in game for the final spot in the Western Conference. Memphis still resides in eighth place in the standings, but its lead is just a half-game over ninth-place Portland and one full game ahead of No. 10 San Antonio.
The Spurs, winners of two straight and four of their six contests in the bubble, head into Tuesday’s game on the heels of a 122-113 victory over New Orleans on Sunday. DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points, Rudy Gay contributed 19 off the bench and Dejounte Murray had 18 for San Antonio in the win.
Derrick White, who has led the Spurs’ defense, hit for 16 points before being forced from the game early in the third quarter. He is listed as questionable with a bruised left knee.
The Spurs have played the games in this restart without starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles and Bryn Forbes. But they are still on the hunt to be the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances, and it would be foolish to discount San Antonio’s chances or doubt its hunger to keep alive that streak.
“If we’re able to be in that ninth spot, that’s quite a victory — it would be huge,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It says a lot about how this young group has come together with three of the starters out. I’m already thrilled with how they played, and it’d be really fantastic if we could get that.”
The Rockets, who have already clinched a playoff berth, have three games remaining and could still finish as high as third in the West.
Austin Rivers scored a career-high 41 points off the bench to lead Houston to a 129-112 win against Sacramento on Sunday. Rivers had the most points by a Rockets’ reserve since Eric “Sleepy” Floyd (40) in 1991. He said afterward that he understands his role his high-scoring team.
“I believe I’m a premier scorer, but I’m on a team where that’s not required of me every night,” Rivers said. “So you’ve got to play a role, and buy in.”
Harden added 32 points for Houston, while Ben McLemore hit for 20 and Robert Covington and Jeff Green scored 12 points each for the Rockets.
Houston has won four of its five games in the restart and captured Sunday’s contest despite playing without Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, who has missed the past two games with a bruised right quadriceps, will play Tuesday, per head coach Mike D’Antoni, but sit out the following game against the Indiana Pacers.
D’Antoni said his team’s success while in the Orlando bubble has been helped by its play on the defensive end.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on (defense), with a lot of talk and everybody has bought in so it makes it fun to play that way,” D’Antoni said. “I think they’re starting to enjoy it even.”
–Field Level Media