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The Gauntlet: Spurs rising while Thunder and Jazz choke

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San Antonio resurrects their season and Thunder still can’t hit free throws.

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This season may go down as one of the most bizarre in NBA history and this Thunder team may be the most infuriating team of all-time. Let’s get to it.

Current NBA Western Conference Standings

Recent Game Results

Monday, 3/19/18 - Oh what a difference just one week in “The Gauntlet” can make on a team’s fortunes and the featured game of the day is a perfect example. Just under a week ago, almost everyone, including yours truly, was playing a dirge on the San Antonio Spurs 21 year playoff run. In my defense, however, it wasn’t without cause.

The Spurs closed out February with losses in 4 of their last 5 games then opened March with a loss to the “Lottery Lakers”... at home. When the Spurs finally won again, it was by the slimmest of margins over the Memphis Grizzlies, a team on a mission to hear their name called first in this summer’s NBA Rookie draft, and after slipping by the Grizz, the Spurs promptly dropped their next 3. Thus the playing of the dirge on March 15th.

Fast-forward 5 days and it’s like that San Antonio team that lost 11 of 15 games leading up to “The Gauntlet” never existed and after 4 straight wins, has resurrected those fading playoff hopes in a big way. DeMarcus Aldridge is dropping 30 pts a night and playing like a man possessed while Pop’s defense has rolled the clock back to 2014 intensity levels and given up just 85.25 pts/gm during the current 4 game streak.

Granted, the Spurs caught a huge break in their last win, 89 to 75 slug-fest, when they caught the Golden State Warriors without Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson in the line-up. Then got another one when Danny Green served Draymond Green a dose of his own “special” medicine...

...and sent Dirty Dray to the showers to sort out the “family” business. It’s interesting to note that when Green gets his “jewels” rearranged, no matter how slightly, he goes limping to the showers, but when the Thunder’s Steven Adams takes far worse, he gets even.

“The Gauntlet” not over for the Spurs as they still have a long way to go with tough match-ups with the Wizards X 2, Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets coming up, but it’s clear that Pop’s bunch of “old dudes” aren’t ready to concede defeat, at least not yet.

The Spurs have gone from the #9 seed and on the outside looking in, to the #5 seed in just 5 days. Tougher games are coming up, but I’ve learned my lesson and will just quote former US President and Texan, George W. Bush

‘There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.’

Yeh! What he said.

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Denver is setting outside the top 8 seedings in the Western Conference and desperately needed a big win in Miami to turn their fortunes around, they didn’t get it. The Nuggets had their chances but could not capitalize in South Beach and dropped a “where the hell was the defense” double-overtime affair, 149 to 141, to the Heat.

The loss dropped the Nuggets to #10 and with only the Bulls standing between Denver and a 10 game stretch against +500 opponents to end their season there is only one thing left undone:

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Tuesday, 3/20/1018 - The Thunder’s mission was simple, just win, baby. Unfortunately, they confused “just win” with “just show up” at Boston and that won’t cut it no matter how depleted the opposition’s roster is or when the time comes to hit clutch free throws. See the recap if you’re a glutton for punishment. This one hurt.

The loss didn’t drop the Thunder out of the #4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, but considering the #3 Trail Blazers were playing the Houston Rockets on the same night and the Thunder stood to move within a few games of catching them, this one hurt.

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The New Orleans Pelicans got a much-needed win over the hapless Dallas Mavericks, 115-105. The game was the first of 3 games the Pels will play in 3 nights because they have to play a make-up game with the Pacers on Wednesday, the night before their regularly scheduled match-up with the Lakers. After a much-needed night off, the Pelicans get to play Houston at the Toyota Center so they really needed this win over the Mavs.

The win moves the Pelicans up to #5, just a game and a half behind the Thunder, and a tie-breaker ahead of the San Antonio Spurs who also hold a 41 and 30 record.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Thunder got a huge break after dropping their pants in Boston when the Utah Jazz did the same and lost to the lottery bound Atlanta Hawks, on their home court, 99-94. The loss snapped the Jazz 9-game winning streak, and like the Thunder, killed their momentum.

The loss dropped the Jazz to #8 in the Western Conference playoff race.

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The Upcoming Thunder Trifecta

Friday, 3/23/2018 - Miami Heat

As stated in the two previous installments of “The Gauntlet”, the Heat are probably the weakest of the 11 +500 opponents the Thunder finish the regular season with before playing the Memphis Grizzlies in their last match-up. Two days ago I would have told you the Thunder probably had this one in the bag, but that was before the boys in blue laid a rotten egg at the free throw line at the Boston Gardens and blew a 5 point lead with 24 seconds remaining so I guess we are back to wondering which Thunder team will show up on any given night. The Thunder should win, so be afraid, be very afraid.

Sunday, 3/25/2018 - Portland Trail Blazers

At the time of this writing, there are just over 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the Blazers game at the Moda Center with Portland currently trailing the Houston Rockets by six. There have been 17 lead changes, 10 ties, and neither team has led by more than 7, which means had the Thunder taken care of their business in Boston, there was at least a 50% chance they would have made up a full game against the Blazers. Yep, game over, Rockets win, the Thunder really screwed the pooch in Boston. The Trail Blazers are a tough match-up for the Thunder, that’s why they lead the season series 3 to zip. It would have been nice had there been a chance to take Portland’s #3 spot to add some incentive for the Thunder.

Thursday, 3/29/18 - San Antonio Spurs

The Thunder gets a nice 4-day break heading into their last meeting with Pops and the Spurs. San Antonio will be returning home after playing the “Greek Freak” on the 25th and the Washington Wizards on the 27th. Many thought the Spurs season over but that was before they ran off 4 straight home wins. No one knows when or if time will finally catch up with the Spurs, nor does anyone know when Kawhi Leonard might decide he wants to play.

Prediction

After the demoralizing loss at Boston, I’ll hope for two wins and settle for one. Just win is now “just don’t go into a skid”.