With one seeding game remaining, the San Antonio Spurs face a must-win situation in order to continue their season.
The Spurs wrap up the regular season against the Utah Jazz on Thursday near Orlando. While Utah has already locked up a playoff spot in the Western Conference, San Antonio still needs a win -- and help -- just to make the Western Conference play-in game. A loss to Utah ends San Antonio's season. Even if the Spurs beat the Jazz, they still need two losses from Portland, Phoenix, or Memphis in order to get to the play-in game.
San Antonio (32-38) is doing everything it can to reach the postseason for the 23rd consecutive season. The Spurs downed Houston 123-105 on Tuesday for their fifth win in seven games.
Rookie guard Keldon Johnson spearheaded the critical victory with 24 points and 11 rebounds -- both career bests.
"He's just a winner," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Johnson helped the Spurs lead by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter against a Rockets team that was resting several key players after virtually clinching the fourth seed. Now, San Antonio has a chance to extend its winning streak to four games against a Jazz team that rested virtually all of their key players when the two teams played last Friday.
"We just got to go out there and do what we do," Johnson said Tuesday. "Are we stressed? No. But I know we definitely want to make the playoffs. We are on the edge and ready to go."
Utah (43-28) has a different goal going into this final seeding game. The Jazz are playoff bound as the sixth seed in the West seed and have been using recent games as a testing ground for younger end-of-the-bench players in order to get them some experience.
The Jazz emptied their bench in the second half in a 122-114 loss to Dallas on Monday. The rookie-heavy lineup let the Mavericks erase a 22-point deficit by the middle of the fourth quarter as they struggled to execute on offense and get stops on defense.
Avoiding a potential first-round matchup with Houston was not Utah's only motivation in resting the starters for half the game. The Jazz are looking to shore up their bench depth in case injuries require digging deep into the rotation.
"We're going to have to at least have the option and the potential to get to the bench in some crucial minutes and that's going to be important for us," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Tuesday.
One other important factor will be outside shooting. In that department, Utah is making steady progress. The Jazz have shot 40 percent or better from the perimeter over their last four games.
Utah had its best outing from 3-point range in the bubble against Dallas -- going 21-of-46 from long distance.
"We're doing a great job of making 3s and taking 3s, so I think that's huge for our success," forward Georges Niang said after the Dallas loss. "And going forward I think that's going to be (key) for our playoff games."
San Antonio beat Utah 119-111 when the two teams played on Friday. Derrick White led the Spurs with 24 points.
--Field Level Media