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As they fight for their postseason lives in a congested Western Conference and continue to deal with uncertainty surrounding the status of injured star Kawhi Leonard, the last thing the San Antonio Spurs need is an injury to one of their top players. That’s exactly what they got on Tuesday, though, as All-Star power forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge — San Antonio’s clear best player all year long, and the force most singularly responsible for the Spurs being in position to keep their 20-year playoff streak alive despite getting nearly nothing from 2017 MVP candidate Leonard — limped off the court late in the second quarter.
With just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Spurs trailing the Washington Wizards by a dozen points, Aldridge went for an offensive rebound of a missed runner by teammate Rudy Gay, but came up empty. As the action moved back to the other end of the court, it became evident that the big man was laboring.
While guarding Wizards guard Bradley Beal on a cross-match, Aldridge reached down for his left knee and began limping. After Kelly Oubre Jr. scored on a putback of a Marcin Gortat miss and got fouled in the process, Aldridge signaled to the Spurs bench that he needed to come out. Head coach Gregg Popovich subbed in Pau Gasol, and Aldridge came off the court and headed to the end of the bench for treatment. He wouldn’t return before the end of the half, and when the Spurs returned from intermission to try to cut into a 14-point deficit, Aldridge wasn’t with them:
Aldridge finished with 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting in 17 1/2 minutes of work before exiting. Without their leading scorer in the lineup, the Spurs wouldn’t get back within single digits, largely failing to threaten the Wizards in the balance of a 116-106 Washington win that wasn’t as close as that final indicated. Seven Wizards scored in double figures in the win, which improved Washington to 41-33, two games behind the Indiana Pacers for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Spurs, on the other hand, lost their second consecutive game after a six-game winning streak … and if Aldridge’s knee proves balky beyond just Tuesday’s second half, they might’ve lost more than that.
Aldridge has been on fire of late, averaging 32.4 points in 34 minutes per game on 57.5 percent shooting over his last seven outings headed into Tuesday. His scorching scoring has been the single biggest factor in the Spurs moving from the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in two decades to back in contention for a top-four seed; just hours before Tuesday’s tip, he’d been honored as the Western Conference’s Player of the Week in recognition of his efforts to boost San Antonio back up the standings.
With Aldridge on the court, the Spurs have outscored opponents by 6.1 points per 100 possessions this season; only the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors have posted better full-season net ratings. When Aldridge sits, though, San Antonio’s offensive effectiveness and overall point differential both crater. The Spurs have been outscored by 1.1 points-per-100 in non-LMA minutes this season, a bottom-third-of-the-league net rating that would slot in between the lottery-bound Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers. That dovetails with what Ben Falk’s numbers at Cleaning the Glass suggest: the Aldridge-led Spurs have the efficiency differential of a 58-win team, while the LaMarcus-free model has produced like a 32-win squad.
The prospect of being without Aldridge for any of the rest of the season, then, is a fairly grim one for these Spurs. Especially considering the slate they’ve got coming up: home for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday and Houston Rockets on Sunday, then on the road for a back-to-back against the outside-looking-in-but-still-playoff-hopeful Los Angeles Clippers and feisty Lakers. Things could get awfully dicey awfully quickly for the Spurs, who exited Tuesday’s game in sixth place in the West, just one game up on the eighth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, and three games ahead of the Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
It remains to be seen whether Aldridge will miss any time. He headed to the team bus with either a slight limp or no noticeable one, depending on who you’re asking, and he’s set to have an MRI on Wednesday. If he does have to take a seat, though, Spurs fans might once again start considering the possibility that, for the first time in a generation, they might not be watching the guys in silver and black play after mid-April.
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