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Spurs at Warriors Preview: Champs aim to kick ‘em while they’re down

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The never-say-die Spurs limp into Oakland as the Warriors are seeking momentum heading into the All-Star break

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Game information

Who: Golden State Warriors (42-13) vs. San Antonio Spurs (35-21)

When: 5:30pm PST - Saturday, February 10th

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA

How to watch: ABC

How to listen: 95.7 The Game

Friendly Buddy’s blog: Pounding The Rock

Injury Report

Warriors: Jordan Bell (left ankle inflammation), out.

Spurs: Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis), Dejounte Murray (sprained ankle), Kawhi Leonard (cryostasis for injured quad), Tony Parker (back tightness/old as hell), out.

Do you remember the time?

The San Antonio Spurs once held a sixteen game win streak over the Warriors that spanned from 2008 until 2013. To put that in perspective, that streak of victories stretched between the “Baron Davis Era” and the “Age of the Splash Bros”. If that wasn’t frustrating enough for long-suffering members of Dub Nation, the Spurs held a five game win streak as recently as 2015.

For many moons, the Spurs kept a cold, iron grip on Golden State’s throat. Even after the Warriors achieved champion status in recent years, San Antonio loomed as the black shadow that would blot out the Golden Empire before it truly reached its potential. The battle-tested Spurs punished the young Dubs for every single mistake, every time. Any lazy passes, bad shots, or lack of hustle by the Warriors immediately fueled back-breaking Spurs runs.

The patient Warriors continued to adjust and grow under the harsh lessons they received from their seasoned rivals. Greatest point guard alive Stephen Curry led the charge, showing no fear of the moment, unleashing highlight reel plays directly in the face of the Spurs vaunted defensive strategies. Even grizzled Spurs coach and basketball guru Gregg Popovich called it “beautiful”.

As the Warriors weaponized joy and began seizing the balance of power in the West, the unfazed Spurs still remained as the looming shadow that threatened to dash it all.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs
Curry surveying the deadly Spurs defense
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Spurs’ future in doubt

That is, until the Warriors overwhelmed the Spurs in last year’s Western Conference Finals with a crippling sweep that officially erased any doubt of who runs the West. The Spurs biggest hero, the fearsome Kawhi Leonard, has not quite been the same since he turned his ankle landing on Zaza Pachulia’s foot in Game 1 of that series. He has his missed the majority of the season with a bizarre quadriceps injury, and his return date is a major question. Not only that, NBA news guru Adrian Wojnarowski reported this via ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two-decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Say whaaaat? Leonard’s camp and Buford both denied the report, so maybe it was all just a CRAZY rumor that holds no water. Even still, veteran point guard Tony Parker has missed a ton of the season with his own quadriceps injury. Aging vets Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili were at their best a decade ago. The Spurs best remaining player, Lamarcus Aldridge, had to be talked out of a trade request!

In any case, these wounded Spurs look ripe for the taking for the champs.

...OR ARE THEY?

Spurs are still alive...for now

Despite the tremendous adversity, these dudes are like the Energizer Bunny: they just keep going and going. How in the hell are they currently sitting at THIRD in the Western Conference?! Take a look at these numbers (courtesy of NBA.com):

The Spurs defense has allowed the least points per game to opponents in the NBA, giving up an ultra stingy 97.7 PPG.

They are second in the league in defensive rating at 101.2, trailing only the Boston Celtics. (The Warriors are sixth).

They are fifth in the league in defending the three point line, forcing opponents to shoot 34% from beyond the arc.

Their bench has the fourth highest net rating in the league at 4.2 (the Warriors are third).

Aldridge is dominating in his new role as primary scorer with Leonard out. He’s averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting, taking just under 18 shots a game. He also has the honor of being selected to Lebron James’ All-Star team as a reserve.

His last game against the Warriors he finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 112-92 Spurs loss, but was harassed into an 8-for-22 shooting by fellow All-Star Draymond Green and the Warriors bigs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an even heavier dose of Aldridge tonight with the Spurs missing Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gay, and Parker in addition to Leonard.

In these Spurs and Warriors clashes, one matchup to keep an eye on is the Green vs Aldridge battle. I love the (generously listed at 6’7”) Green’s defense on the 6’11” Aldridge; it’s the perfect combination of strength and savvy to stymie the taller man. Here is a series of clips from a 2016 Dubs victory over San Antonio that perfectly encapsulates their wars.

Green regulates Aldridge in the paint like a bouncer blocking a belligerently drunk patron from entering a bar. That’s why he’s the reigning defensive player of the year folks!

Hey Warriors: Don’t play with your food!

The Warriors are looking to pick up some momentum heading into the All-Star break after a tasty 121-103 victory over another Texas team in the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. Another Texas team, the streaking Houston Rockets, are breathing down the neck of the champions for the #1 seed in the West; the Dubs would be wise to crush the shorthanded Spurs in this home tilt as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Even with several important playmakers missing, the Spurs are still dangerous. They are a well coached machine that seemingly can take any player off of the street and turn him into a stud. They are on the second game of their annual Rodeo Trip, and would love nothing more than to steal the spotlight in Oracle on a nationally televised weekend game.

That’s too damn bad, though. I expect the Warriors to put the undermanned Spurs into a torture rack and wrap this one up by about halfway through the third quarter.

Gold-blooded prediction: Warriors 114, Spurs 90