San Antonio faces tough task defending NBA crown as the sixth seed

The Spurs will try to become the first sixth-seeded team since the Rockets in 1995 to win NBA title

The path the San Antonio Spurs have to take in their quest to keep their NBA championship crown will be daunting.

They enter the playoffs as the sixth-seeded team in the loaded Western Conference, which means the defending champion Spurs won’t have the home-court advantage in the first round and possibly throughout the entire playoffs.

The Spurs’ first task will be trying to defeat a very good Clippers team in one of the most compelling first-round series in the playoffs that starts Sunday at Staples Center.

The Clippers have the home-court advantage as the third seed by virtue of a 56-26 record, just one game better than the Spurs.

San Antonio had an opportunity to be the second seed in the West and capture the rugged Southwest Division title, but the Spurs lost their regular-season finale against a New Orleans Pelicans team in need of a win to qualify for the playoffs.

So the Spurs dropped from the third spot they were holding on to when that game started Wednesday night to the sixth spot.

But it’s not like the sixth seed hasn’t pulled off the amazing feat of winning the NBA championship without the benefit of home-court advantage.

Twenty years ago, the Houston Rockets became the first team to climb out of the sixth-seeded spot to win the NBA championship.

And it gave the Rockets back-to-back championships.

The Spurs, who are trying to win back-to-back championships for the first time, know that road has been traveled before.

“It’s a great example,” Spurs guard Tony Parker told reporters in San Antonio on Friday about Houston’s improbable 1995 championship run. “It’s been done before. It’s not going to be an easy task. But our focus right now is on the Clippers. So we’ll see.”

The Spurs will improve their chances if center Tiago Splitter can play against the Clippers.

Splitter, who missed the last six games with tightness in his right calf, went through a light practice Friday and has been listed by the Spurs as a game-time decision for Game 1.

Despite the loss to New Orleans, San Antonio is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. So are the Clippers, who won their last seven games and 14 out of their last 15.

The Spurs had their 11-game winning streak snapped by the Pelicans, but San Antonio finished the regular season having won 21 of its final 25 games.

Still, that left the Spurs at 55-27 and the best record for any No. 6 seed.

“Yeah, that’s crazy,” Parker said. “The conference is so good. It’s crazy to win 11 games in a row and you’re still sixth, and you play the other hottest team.

“Basically us and the Clippers are the two hottest teams. We have to welcome it. It’s going to be a great challenge to start off on the road.”

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter:@BA_Turner

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