Suddenly, proud Spurs have hit the skids

The San Antonio Spurs entered the 2017-18 season with their usual high expectations.

For the majority of the season, they fulfilled those goals, too, occupying the third spot in the Western Conference standings, trailing only the league’s two best teams, Houston and Golden State, doing so with first-team All-NBA player Kawhi Leonard playing only nine games because of right quadriceps injury.

Suddenly, though, the Spurs’ fortunes have gone south. A late collapse sent San Antonio to a 116-112 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night at AT&T Center.

“It’s very disappointing, because we wanted to pick up where we left off last year after 61 wins, going to the conference finals,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We had high hopes to start out. And even without Tony (Parker) and Kawhi  to start, we did very well.

“And then we kind of hit a wall.”

That would be an understatement.

The loss to the Lakers Saturday night marked the first time since the 2001-02 season that the Spurs have dropped four consecutive games at home. San Antonio is now just 2-8 in its last 10 games.

The Spurs (36-27), who have made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, dropped to sixth in the Western Conference standings by bowing to Los Angeles. They led by 17 points in the second half, and by 12 with 5:49 to play, but could not hold on.

“Halfway through the season we were aiming for the third spot,” Manu Ginobili said. “Now we are aiming for the playoffs. A lot of things changed.”

Injuries to Parker, Leonard and now LaMarcus Aldridge have been big parts of the change. Aldridge missed the game against the Lakers because of a sprained right ankle.

“Down the stretch when games are close, the team is used to putting the ball into the hands of those players, and they are not there,” veteran big man Pau Gasol said.

Gasol went as far as to call a game against the awful Memphis Grizzlies (18-44) a “must-win” game.

“Night in and night out, we could count on Tony to get a layup or Manu or Timmy (Duncan) to execute a play — without even having to call it,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “Now we have to draw up plays and explain it to (players) and see how well they can execute it. … It’s very different.

“The old Spurs that we used to be is not here anymore.”

Here’s an interesting look at San Antonio’s remaining schedule, courtesy of Rob Wolkenbrod of AirAlamo:

  • March 5: Memphis Grizzlies – The “cold open,” as they say on Saturday Night Live.
  • March 8: Golden State Warriors – The Spurs lost both games to the Warriors this season. It’s never a good time to face them, but, with the current standings, San Antonio must win this.
  • March 10: Oklahoma City Thunder – Part two of this dangerous stretch.
  • March 12: Houston Rockets – It’s hardly been a contest when these teams play. As long as Leonard remains out, the Spurs have a tall task here.
  • March 13: Orlando Magic – The Magic obliterated the Spurs in the first part of the season. That was over four months ago, and both teams look different than Oct. 27, 2017.
  • March 15: New Orleans Pelicans – These teams recently played, and the Spurs should have secured a win then. In under two weeks, let’s see if Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are around.
  • March 17: Minnesota Timberwolves – No Jimmy Butler helps, but keeping up with Karl-Anthony Towns will not.
  • March 19: Golden State Warriors – Another one bites the dust.
  • March 21: Washington Wizards – The first of two games these teams will play in a six-day stretch. If John Wall is back from injury, this could be another difficult matchup.
  • March 23: Utah Jazz – Utah gave the Spurs fits in their previous three matchups.
  • March 25: Milwaukee Bucks – A November battle saw a mostly tight score, but the Bucks pulled away with former head coach Jason Kidd.
  • March 27: Washington Wizards – See previous.
  • March 29: Oklahoma City Thunder – Not ideal for the final two weeks of the season.
  • April 1: Houston Rockets – April Fools?
  • April 3: Los Angeles Clippers – This game has the potential to be interesting, especially if the Spurs continue to lose and the Clippers remain at No. 8 or No. 9 in the West.
  • April 4: Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers just defeated the Spurs and are on a streak, but this will be one that’s expected to see a change in the final score.
  • April 7: Portland Trail Blazers – Portland snuck up to No. 3 in the West, and will not be an easy foe this late in the season.
  • April 9: Sacramento Kings – The easiest game that remains.
  • April 11: New Orleans Pelicans – A game that might determine playoff seeding.