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NBA wrap: Houston tops San Antonio as Spurs' woes continue, but there is hope

The Spurs have not missed the NBA postseason since 1997.

The Spurs lost again Monday night, falling to the Rockets, 109-93, for their third straight loss and ninth in 11 games.

How bad was it for the Spurs? Rockets star James Harden scored 28 points — which is almost as many as the 33 combined points from San Antonio's starting lineup. 

With the end of the season in sight, the Spurs (37-30) are fighting for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. In fact, if the season ended today, they would lose out in a logjam for the eighth spot. The Spurs, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets are all 16 games behind the first-place Rockets in the West, but the Clippers and Jazz would earn the tiebreaker for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. The Spurs are 10th.

The Spurs have not missed the NBA postseason since 1997, coincidentally the same year Gregg Popovich took the reins in midseason.

But while the Spurs lost Monday, all is not lost for the team. There are some encouraging signs — it's just that none of them could help the Spurs Monday in a game against the red-hot Rockets (53-14), who have won 19 of 20.

The obvious good news for the Spurs: Kawhi Leonard is expected back in the lineup Thursday against the Pelicans. The two-time NBA All-Star forward has missed all but nine games this season with quadriceps tendinopathy, and the Spurs clearly miss his scoring (25.5 ppg last season) and defense. Leonard will have some rust to shake off, but even at less than 100 percent he's a big upgrade for the Spurs.

And Leonard's return coincides with a long homestand for the Spurs, who begin a six-game stretch at home Tuesday against the Pelicans.

It's not a stretch to say the Spurs' playoff fate depends on how they do during those six games. After that, seven of their last nine games come against teams with winning records, and one of those teams with a losing mark, the Lakers, has one of the best records in the league the past couple of months.

You can't ever count the Spurs out, but they've left themselves very little margin for error the final few weeks of the season.

Stud of the Night

Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who began the season playing in China before moving to the Bucks' G League team in February, played his first NBA game in almost a year Monday and almost recorded a triple-double. Jennings, who signed a 10-day contract with Milwaukee Sunday, scored 16 points, dished out 12 assists and had eight rebounds in just 24 minutes in the Bucks' win over the Grizzlies.

Dud of the Night

The Grizzlies fell to the Bucks 121-103 for their 18th straight loss. In case you're wondering, the NBA record for consecutive losses is 28, set by the 76ers between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. The Grizzlies are now 18-49, a stunning fall for a franchise that went 43-39 a year ago.

Highlight

Russell Westbrook racks up a lot of assists, but few as nice as this alley-oop to Jerami Grant.

What's Next

Pacers (39-28) at 76ers (36-29) 7 p.m. ET —  There are plenty of young stars on display in this matchup. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are exceeding lofty expectations for the 76ers, while Victor Oladipo (23.8 points per game) has emerged as a franchise-type player in his first year in Indy.