The Spurs can’t gain on the Warriors: In June, two days in March might loom large

It felt at times like a weekly golf league where you draw the guy who’s a +25 and you have to give him strokes on every hole, but so long as you don’t intentionally start hitting them in the ravine, you should win the match. Then, you go on jacking 3-foot tap in putts, shank one out of bounds, and the next thing you know, you’re buying rounds.

Welcome to the top of the Western Conference this week, apparently. The Golden State Warriors took an ignominious loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and then the San Antonio Spurs tonight took an L from the Indiana Pacers, whose ability to compete and win seems to be as consistent as the weather.

The Spurs did themselves in with a disgusting shooting first half, going 13-50 from the field, getting 13 more shots than Indiana. They killed them on the glass all night long, consistently unable to hit the first shot but always finding their way to the offensive rebound.

Kawhi Leonard was especially brutal, going 1-7 from deep and missing a free throw late that could have helped close the gap. Only he and LaMarcus Aldridge scored in double figures for the team, all while being completely unable to deal with an old Western Conference foe … Monta Ellis … who scored 26 on only 13 shots.

Ellis, particularly late, went kamikaze into the lane and hit clutch free throws, providing, when he’s at his best, a great alternative to the odd “jumper first” game that Paul George has adopted.

Coming into the game, this was a golden opportunity for the Spurs (no gosh darn pun intended) to pick up some distance and put some pressure on the Warriors, the likes of which they haven’t had all year. Had the Spurs won, the distance betwixt the two would have been 2 games, and the closer the mugger gets, the more you catch yourself looking over the shoulder.

At any rate, the Spurs brought just lousy basketball to Banker’s Life in Indianapolis, going a repugnant 4-28 from deep and losing a game where they got 18 more shots than their opponent.

The Pacers are happy they brought this brand of basketball to the town on a sleepy Monday, as they’re mired in a rock kicking contest at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race, where the only consistency is that no one can win regularly. The Pacers have been consistently bamboozled late in games, but showed shades of how good they actually can be.

Since the All Star break, they’ve won in Oklahoma City and warming-up Washington, plus against the Spurs, but have been repeatedly flogged by the Charlotte Hornets and flatly gave games away against the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.

What the Pacers do really isn’t the story of this game, however.

The real takeaway from this game is that finally, because the Warriors found a crack in the sidewalk and tried to get cute about skipping over it, someone had a chance to put some pressure on their historic run.

Early March doesn’t seem like a time that is reasonable to look back on and suggest it played a key role in what happens in the NBA Playoffs, but in this case, it might. If the Warriors and Spurs mostly play out the string predictably, it may be March 6 and 7 that decided who plays at home for all the Western Conference marbles … and in the end, who goes home with those marbles in their satchel.