For most of the season, it seemed as though the 2023-2024 campaign would go down as the worst in San Antonio Spurs history. Thanks in large part to a club record 18-game losing streak, the team won only five of its first 35 games. It was easily on pace to fall short of the 20 wins the 1996-1997 version captured. A little more than three months later, Victor Wembanyama and company have managed to avoid the wrong side of history.

A thrilling victory against the reigning champion Denver Nuggets moves these Spurs past the edition that directly preceded Tim Duncan.

An improbable way to avoid history

San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama (1) reacts after a victory over the Denver Nuggets at Frost Bank Center.
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

How unlikely was it that Friday's game vs. the Nuggets would be the win that avoided franchise futility?

The Spurs were without five key members of their rotation, including the second, third and fourth leading scorers. Considering they close with the Memphis Grizzlies, defending champ Denver was in prime position to again finish with the West's best record by winning its last two games against two of the league's worst teams. Once the ball tipped, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and company built a 23-point lead.

In the end, none of it mattered.

“We come out and play hard, compete against anybody. [Gregg Popovich] is always saying he doesn’t care who’s on the floor, who's playing, who's not. He told us before the game he doesn’t care if old Manu Ginobili goes out there and plays, he expects everybody to play hard. So, that's just what we try to do.” Spurs guard Devonte' Graham said.

The veteran guard scored 11 points, including the game-winner with 0.9 left, to help the Spurs upset the Nuggets, 121-120.

Spurs say they didn't focus on the record

This year's version of the Silver and Black avoided setting the club's worst record mark with a 102-87 victory at the even more shorthanded Grizzlies on Tuesday night. A blowout loss at the Oklahoma City Thunder meant they went into the final weekend of the season with 20 wins.

Ahead of their final two games of the season, ClutchPoints asked Tre Jones if avoiding matching the worst record in franchise history mattered.

“At the end of the day, not really. Once you're eliminated from the playoffs, that's really it,” the point guard said.

“We've been playing better. Our record doesn't show, I feel like, the way we've been playing these last couple of months for sure. Definitely going to try to win on Sunday. That's always the goal is winning.  I'm not too worried about the record or whatever,” Jones continued.

San Antonio's kick down the stretch

With only 11 games left in the season, the Spurs sat at 15 wins, meaning that, by average, they'd won one out of every four and a half games they'd played. At that rate, they were in line for two more victories the rest of the way.

Instead, they won six of their next 10, including against the Phoenix Suns while without Victor Wembanyama and vs. the New York Knicks before Friday's thriller vs. the champs.

A win vs. the Detroit Pistons in the finale would match last year's 22-60 mark.