Lucky comment lingers as key clash nears
There were many observers, Doc Rivers famously among them, who considered the Warriors lucky they didn’t run into the Spurs in the playoffs last season. He was mostly referring to his Clippers that Golden State also avoided, but lumped his guys with in San Antonio because that’s who was really considered by most as the eventual champs likely foil.
"If they saying that, they aren't the champs. It's simple,” Draymond Green replied last July. “Gregg Popovich didn't say that. That's one organization I really respect. And you haven't heard anybody in they camp say that.”
There's mutual respect in this rivalry, probably because the teams have avoided a playoff series since 2013. The Spurs ended up getting more rest this past summer than they had since losing in the first round back in 2011. San Antonio was defeated by L.A. as Chris Paul played hero in an epic first-round series, forcing it to turn the page after watching Golden State run through the postseason in replacing them as NBA champion.
Warriors help Spurs fly under radar
The Spurs have won six of seven meetings against the Warriors and have added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to the mix. While Golden State has come into the season with a chip on its shoulder due to the perception that last season’s title was a fluke, San Antonio has happily skated under the radar, quietly meshing its new pieces and adjusting to changing roles.
The Warriors’ 24-0 start provided cover for a Spurs team that lost their opener and then fell to 3-2 with a loss at Washington. Since, then, they’ve gone 35-4, the exact record GSW has compiled over the last 39 games. While the national conversation has mostly dissected the Warriors’ chances of surpassing the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 mark, it will certainly be expanded to include the Spurs if they’re able to record a victory here.
As of Sunday, Sportsbook.ag had Golden State (5/6) and San Antonio (5/4) listed practically as co-favorites to win the Western Conference. After this game, the teams will square off three more times in the regular season. The next meeting takes place in Texas on Mar. 19.
For this first clash, the Warriors opened as 4 ½-point favorites over the Spurs and the line had reached 5 at most spots on Monday morning. Golden State hasn’t lost a regular-season game on its home court since Jan. 27, 2015, a span of 37 games. The Spurs have the NBA’s second-best road record at 14-6, but won’t have Tim Duncan available due to knee soreness.
While his absence reminds us that this is still just a regular-season game and shouldn’t be blown out of context, the fact these heavyweights are meeting so deep into the season after compiling a combined record of 78-10 means it will be inevitably be scrutinized heavily going forward. Duncan sitting affords more opportunities for Aldridge and West to place their imprint on the series.
of VegasInsider.com believes the Duncan-less Spurs are still worth a look as an underdog.
“San Antonio has won six of its last seven encounters against Golden State and that includes a 3-1 record in its last four trips to the Bay Area, which should give the club plenty of confidence heading into the hostile confines of Oracle Arena,” explained David. “The Spurs play in a great system and win more than anybody with the next man up philosophy. They’ve gone 7-0 this season without Duncan in the lineup, six of the wins coming by double digits.”
Interestingly enough, Aldridge, the marquee acquisition of 2015’s free agency period, calls the Spurs Kawhi Leonard’s team. The unassuming small forward has blossomed into a superstar. He’s probably the least hyped All-Star starter of the 10 players voted in by fans last Thursday, rewarded for his undeniable contributions on both ends of the floor. Who’s he going to spend more time on? Green or Klay Thompson. How often will we see him on Stephen Curry?
Speaking of the reigning MVP, he appears to be back in a rhythm. After missing a few games at the end of December and easing into the new year, Curry has averaged 33.8 points over his last eight games, draining 50 of 104 3-point attempts in that span. Historically, he’s struggled against the Spurs. Back in 2013-14, Curry shot just over 39 percent against San Antonio, his lowest split of the season. He shot 46 percent in three games against the Spurs last season, but the 21.7 points he averaged were a few points below his average.
The total on this game is hovering around 210 and the ‘under’ is 4-2-1 in the past seven regular season meetings. When the pair met in the 2013 playoffs, the ‘under’ went 4-2 in the series that the Spurs captured.
Golden State has watched the ‘over’ cash in three straight and seven of its last 10 but David thinks the high side could be hindered with defense.
“The Spurs are great at defending the 3-point shot, holding teams to 31.7 percent this season, which is ranked second in the league,” said David. “Coincidentally, the best team in this defensive category is Golden State at 30.8 percent. I doubt Popovich concedes the triples and will likely use his depth to make the Warriors earn their points on Monday.”
This is just the second time this season that San Antonio is listed as an underdog, the first instance coming in that aforementioned opener at Oklahoma City. The Thunder dropped the Spurs 112-106 as a four-point home favorite.
David added, “It’s rare to see the Spurs as ‘dogs and it could make you hesitant to back them in this role. The club is 9-11 straight up but 11-9 against the spread when catching points over the last two seasons.”
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA