HANG TIME, Texas -- With the Thunder falling at Denver on Friday night, the Spurs got a little breathing room in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.
But almost before they could exhale, it was time to gasp in anguish when Tony Parker had to be helped off the court with a sprained left ankle.
“It’s a good one, he’ll be out a while,” said coach Gregg Popovich.
An MRI performed Saturday morning confirmed a Grade 2 sprain and the prognosis is for Parker to miss four weeks.
That timetable would put Parker back in the lineup with about two weeks left in the regular season, enough time it would seem to be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.
But the question is whether the All-Star point guard will return to a team that is still holding onto the top seed and home-court advantage all the way through the West bracket.
Over past three seasons, the Spurs are 7-7 without Parker, but eight of those games were also played without Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. They are 3-5 while missing all of the Big Three.
In games without Parker, but with at least one of Ginobili and Duncan, Spurs are 4-2 over past three seasons.
According to our good buddy Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, Duncan is promising that the Spurs will soldier on:
Parker’s injury might not be a blow devastating to the Spurs’ push to hold on to the top slot in the West against hard-charging Oklahoma City, two games behind in the loss column.
But it certainly doesn’t help.
“He’s been our leader all year long,” said Tim Duncan, who a month earlier nearly to the day limped off the AT&T Center floor through the same tunnel with a sprained knee. “But we’ve played with all kinds of different people this year. We’re going to rally.”
But you have to remember that so much has changed over the past two seasons, as Parker has stepped up to be the main cog in the Spurs’ scoring machine as well as the quarterback that runs the offense. He is their leading scorer and assist man and had run his string of double-digit point games to 50 before getting injured in the third quarter against the Kings on Friday night.
While so much well-deserved attention has gone to LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant in the MVP race, Parker has put up numbers that should have him in consideration, yet somehow he gets overlooked. He has never been voted an All-Star starter and finished out of the running again for the game played on Feb. 17 in Houston.
Consider this quote from Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo that McDonald pulled out of his notebook from last month’s Rodeo Trip, referring to Parker: “He’s the one they can’t afford to lose.”
If he is sidelined the full four weeks, that means Parker would miss key games against the Thunder, Grizzlies, Heat, Clippers and Nuggets.
One of the strengths of the Spurs over the past couple of seasons has been their tremendous depth. Now it could determine the No. 1 seed in the West.