Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Monday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Golden State (-3, 224) at San Antonio, 8:05 ET, ESPN

Considering how poorly the Rodeo road trip went – the Spurs went 1-7 in their worst showing on what is annually their longest trek – Gregg Popovich and his team were written off for the 642,574th time over the past decade. This time, it figured to stick.

Kawhi Leonard is in Toronto with Danny Green. Tony Parker is producing in Charlotte. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have retired.

San Antonio looked done after getting swept by the Knicks and Nets by double-digits three weeks ago. It had dropped its first three games coming out of the All-Star break and were overwhelmed in New York as a 9-point favorite and 1.5-point underdog. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, catching points in Brooklyn isn’t something typically associated with Western Conference powers. The Spurs were officially done.

So, naturally, they got back home after losing to the Nets and beat the Pistons. San Antonio then took out the Thunder and Nuggets. It hasn’t lost since that Feb. 25 setback in Brooklyn. The Spurs put an eight-game winning streak, currently the longest in the NBA, on the line against Golden State. You’re not going to read that this is a potential conference finals preview. In that sense, Pop’s team continues to be overlooked as a true contender, but it’s hard to dismiss what we’ve seen from them in making it to this point in March as the only team not to taste a loss this month.

The Spurs have defeated the Bucks and Trail Blazers at home on this run in addition to getting revenge on the Knicks, so they’ve actually won 10 straight at AT&T Center. San Antonio’s last loss in its building came on Jan. 20 against the Clippers. The Spurs are 8-1 at home as a pick’em or underdog this season, winning seven straight games in that role. That’s important to know because the Warriors are going to be favored here, getting forward Kevin Durant back from a two-game absence after spraining an ankle. Golden State went out and beat the Rockets and Thunder, arguably the top threats to their Western Conference supremacy, on the road without him.

Improved defense has been the reason both of these teams have persevered of late. San Antonio has led the NBA in scoring defense during its eight-game surge, giving up 99.8 points per 100 possessions. Golden State clamped down and held the Rockets to 104 points, Houston’s second-lowest output since February began, before visiting Oklahoma City on Saturday night and surrendering just 88 points, the fewest the Thunder have managed since Feb. 8, 2018.

After losing at home to the Suns as a 17-point favorite in a game memorable due to cameras catching Steve Kerr commenting on how tired he is of Draymond Green’s schtick -- or something like that – Golden State has turned things around, killing the narrative that it might indeed be vulnerable. That they’ve done it with Durant watching is even more impressive, since he was not the issue with their inconsistency. The Warriors are just fine, and when they want to defend, they’re virtually unbeatable.

DeMarcus Cousins will miss Monday's game with an ankle injury, while Andre Iguodala has been ruled out due to a dental procedure. Head coach Steve Kerr says he'll play Andrew Bogut some minutes tonight in his return to the NBA. He won MVP honors in Australia and will vie to join Kerr's rotation as the playoffs approach.

The Spurs have been solid with first-year starting point guard Derrick White in the mix since he’s turned into a standout defender, filling the role that Dejounte Murray was supposed to play before he tore his ACL in the preseason. White missed all but two games on the Spurs’ ill-fated roadie with a heel injury but has since returned to play every game on their current run, averaging 13 points and nearly six assists while shooting over 52 percent from the field and close to 37 percent from 3-point range. Popovich has made no secret of his importance and anyone who watches the Spurs regularly can attest to the impact he has on the team with his pace and defense.

He’s played just 18 minutes off the bench against Golden State this season, participating in the 104-92 home win back on Nov. 18 that featured neither Stephen Curry, Green or DeMarcus Cousins, so we’ll really only be able to gage his impact in helping defend Curry and Klay Thompson tonight. White’s foot issues kept him out against the Warriors in the lone meeting in Oakland, a 141-102 loss on Feb. 6 you can flush down the toilet since LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and White all sat out.

It’s still possible that this winds up being the 1-8 matchup in the West, so it will be interesting to see how Popovich attacks this game, particularly since his team is playing their best basketball of the season and Durant is returning to make the Warriors whole. San Antonio is 12 games over .500 for the first time this season and showcased its depth as seven players scored in double-figures in Saturday’s night win over Portland. Despite Denver carrying a three-game winning streak into tonight’s visit to Boston, Golden State owns a one-game lead in the conference. The Spurs are currently sixth, a half-game up on the Jazz and Clippers and just 1.5 games behind the Blazers for fourth. They trail the Rockets in the Southwest Division by just three games with 12 to go and will visit Houston on Friday night, making this a massive week.

We’ll see if they can take advantage of Durant potentially needing to knock off a little rust in order to pull off another surprise here, but it’s surely getting expensive to continue fading the Spurs if that’s what you’ve been doing since the Rodeo road trip. San Antonio has covered in seven of eight. The ‘under’ has prevailed in eight of nine involving the Spurs and nine of 10 games featuring Golden State, including each of the last seven.

Best of the Rest

Utah at Washington, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Wizards are running out of time to salvage what has thus far been an ill-fated season, coming into the week 3.5 games behind Miami for the Southeast Division lead and the East's final playoff berth. Bradley Beal has been on a tear and has scored 40 points in consecutive games, shooting 16-for-25 from 3-point range, so the Wizards can hop on his back again to try and take down a Jazz team opening a four-game Eastern road swing that will also see them visit the Knicks, Hawks and Bulls. Utah is looking to surge into the West's top four by taking care of business on a trip in which they'll be favored in every game.

Denver at Boston, 7:35 p.m. ET: Nikola Jokic got thrown out of the Nuggets' 102-100 Saturday night win over the Pacers and has now been tossed by Tony Brothers all three times he's been ejected from an NBA game. Fortunately for Jokic, Brothers won't be on this game as Denver opens a four-game road trip against the Celtics. Denver will play six of its next seven away from home against a very challenging schedule that features only one non-playoff team, so we'll see what its made of over the next few weeks as it looks to hold on to the Northwest Division lead it has enjoyed for months. Al Horford is expected to play through knee soreness for Boston, but Gordon Hayward is considered doubtful with a neck issue.

Miami at Oklahoma City, 8:05 p.m. ET: The Heat locked in defensively and held Charlotte to just 75 points on Sunday afternoon, marking the second time in three games that they've held an opponent in the 70s. It was even more impressive that they held it down without Justise Winslow, who is dealing with a thigh injury that may keep him out again here. Miami catches a huge break not having to deal with Russell Westbrook, who is suspended for amassing 16 technical fouls this season after picking up the penalty-clinching T in Saturday's loss to the Warriors. The Heat are plenty familiar with Paul George and Dennis Schroder, whose roles as catalysts will now be heightened in Westbrook's absence.

Indiana at Portland, 10:35 p.m. ET: The Blazers got encouraging news regarding CJ McCollum's knee injury suffered late Saturday night since it's not expected to be season-ending, but they'll need to make due without him and will be relying on Rodney Hood to help fill in. The Pacers know all about replacing a standout shooting guard since Victor Oladipo is rehabbing away from the team in South Florida after his own knee injury. Wes Matthews has done a nice job filling in defensively but is nowhere near the same type of threat on the offensive end, requiring Bojan Bogdanovic to be more aggressive in looking to score. The Pacers opened a tough four-game road trip with a 102-100 loss in Denver and are just one game up on the Celtics for the No. 4 spot in the East in what's looking increasingly likely to be a first-round matchup come postseason.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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