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Warriors at Spurs: Western Conference Finals Preview?

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After clinching home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA Playoffs, Golden State will test its mettle against the wily Spurs.

Steph had fire in his eyes last time the Warriors and Spurs met.
Steph had fire in his eyes last time the Warriors and Spurs met.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs

AT&T Center -- San Antonio, Texas

Tip-Off: 7:00 PM ET

TV: NBA TV (national), CSN Bay Area (local) // Radio: KNBR 1050

Blog Buddy: Pounding the Rock

Don't ever count out the Spurs. San Antonio is making a run as the season winds down, winning their last six games to move a half-game back of the Clippers for first-round home-court advantage. When the Spurs get on a run, as they did last season, the defending champions are very difficult to stop.

One key to the Spurs' surge has been the return of forward and defensive star Kawhi Leonard. Since he returned in late January, the Spurs have gone 26-10 to jump from seventh to fifth in the hotly contested Western Conference. With Leonard on the floor, the Spurs have outscored opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions*. Furthermore, their defense is fantastic when Leonard is on the floor*; when he sits, though, the Spurs allow about two more threes and their opponents to shoot a higher percentage from deep than when Leonard is in the game*.

While the return of Leonard has no doubt boosted the Spurs, the team just lost starting center Tiago Splitter to a right calf injury against Denver two nights ago. He underwent an MRI, the San-Antonio Express-News reported, and has already been ruled out for tonight's critical matchup. Splitter has been a key cog for the Spurs all season, and since January 16 -- since the date the Spurs' normal starters have all been healthy -- Splitter's plus-minus of +16.6* is the highest on the team. A massive loss for the Spurs; luckily, Coach Gregg Popovich is famed for playing his bench whenever he wants or feels he needs to.

The Warriors, meanwhile, are hoping to finally end their regular-season losing streak in San Antonio, now at 31 games (which has been ongoing since before Tim Duncan joined the team -- and before I was born). Though the Warriors beat the Spurs in Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, they still have not won in San Antonio in the regular season in 18 years. You just know Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry, and the entire Warriors team are itching to defeat the team that inspires them.

But Coach Kerr might pull a Pop and rest all his starters tonight, even though it's a great matchup between arguably the two West teams best suited to make the Finals at this point. Golden State just clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs against Dallas last night, and tonight is on the second game of a back-to-back with just six games left until the playoffs. Kerr may look to give his bench lots of minutes even if he does play all the starters and Andre Iguodala, to give guys like David Lee and Brandon Rush some needed playing time to get in rhythm before the playoffs. (Yes, I know rotations shorten during the playoffs, which means they might not play at all, but it's good to have all hands on deck.)

Hopefully, tonight we get the matchup all NBA fans are salivating at. The Warriors, the best team in the NBA, looking to defeat the defending champions in their house for the first time in 18 years. At this point in the season, after the Spurs dominated them at home in the beginning of the season, I believe Kerr wants to send a message to his mentor Popovich -- and not the one that Popovich would send.

Predictions!

  • Stephen Curry goes for 23 points and 10 assists while hitting five threes. #ChaseFor273
  • Klay Thompson is harassed by Kawhi Leonard all night, but still manages 20 points.
  • Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green combine for eight three-pointers and 35 points.
  • Tim Duncan scores 25 points, grabs 11 boards, and has three blocks.
  • Warriors win going away, 107-99.

*per NBA media-only stats website

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