For the San Antonio Spurs to avoid a first-round playoff series with the defending champions, they’ll probably need to win their final two games and get some help.
Before looking ahead to possible playoff scenarios, though, the Spurs first need to get past the Minnesota Timberwolves - something that hasn’t been a problem for them lately.
In its regular season finale Monday night at the AT&T Center, San Antonio seeks its 12th straight victory over the woeful Timberwolves.
After winning the Southwest Division four of the past five seasons, the Spurs (49-31) look like they could be the Western Conference’s eighth seed for this season’s playoffs. San Antonio and Portland have identical records, but the Trail Blazers swept the season series and hold the tiebreaker.
San Antonio can still pass Portland, as it wraps up the season Wednesday at Southwest Division-winning Dallas, while the Blazers host sixth-place Oklahoma on Monday and lowly Golden State on Wednesday.
The team that finishes eighth will have a first-round series with the top-seeded Lakers. Asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how bad the Spurs wanted to face the Lakers in the opening round, coach Gregg Popovich simply answered, “Minus-5.”
Popovich would probably rather face the Timberwolves (15-65), the West’s worst team.
The Spurs have won 11 straight over Minnesota and 16 of 17 in the series. They’ve also won the last 11 in San Antonio since a 100-93 loss on Jan. 14.
Neither meeting this season was close, as the Spurs won 117-99 at home on Dec. 29 and 103-85 in Minnesota on March 12. Richard Jefferson(notes) led San Antonio with 24 points in the December meeting and finished with 19 points and nine rebounds against the Timberwolves last month.
The Spurs are coming off an impressive 104-85 win at Denver on Saturday, handing the Nuggets just their fourth home loss in 24 games.
Duncan said after the game he isn’t too concerned about who the Spurs face in the playoffs.
“We’ll play who we play. We’ll prepare for it the same way,” the 12-time All-Star said. “We’ve got to refocus.”
San Antonio knows it won’t face Minnesota, a team that has essentially been out of the postseason picture since starting the season 1-15.
The season is ending even worse for the Timberwolves, who have just one victory in their last 22 games.
Minnesota, which is coming off Sunday’s 114-86 loss at New Orleans, needs one win in its final two games to avoid matching the worst record in franchise history, set in 1991-92. The Wolves, who are 2-23 on the road since Dec. 29, conclude the regular season Wednesday against Detroit.
Sunday’s loss was especially discouraging for Minnesota, which shot 39.4 percent, was outrebounded 49-30 and outscored 70-32 in the paint.
“I don’t think we were purposeful out there,” said coach Kurt Rambis, who was ejected for arguing a call early in the second quarter. “I don’t think that we were very attentive to what we wanted to do offensively. … Defensive-wise, we weren’t focused on what we had to do in order to get stops.”
Al Jefferson(notes) returned to Minnesota’s lineup Sunday after missing two games while attending to a hospitalized family member, but had only five points on 1 of 6 shooting and three rebounds in 30 minutes.