San Antonio (4-3) have not lost four in a row since February, 2015, during their annual “rodeo” road trip that lasted nine games, and one of those losses included a setback at Golden State. This edition of the Spurs dropped the final three games on their four-game swing against Eastern Conference opponents, capped by a 108-94 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
Rookie Brandon Paul hit three 3-pointers, scored a season-high 18 points and has made 7 of 11 from beyond the arc over his last four games. Paul has averaged 9.0 points in that span after coach Gregg Popovich inserted him in the rotation as the Spurs continue to play without injured starting point guard Tony Parker and starting small forward Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs added intrigue to this contest by recalling Parker from their G-League affiliate, but they did not offer any timetable regarding his return or if he would even play in this game. The losing streak has left Popovich stuck on 1,154 victories, one shy of tying Phil Jackson for sixth on the all-time NBA wins list heading into the start of this six-game home stand.
The Warriors (5-3) showed they may finally moved past what coach Steve Kerr called a “championship hangover” by drilling the Los Angeles Clippers 141-113 on Monday night. Stephen Curry hit seven 3-pointers and scored 31 points as Golden State set season highs in points, shooting (58.4 percent) and assists (37).
The reigning champions are the runaway NBA leaders at 30.9 assists per game, 5.6 more than second-place Orlando and a full ten more than San Antonio. Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green each had six assists in the win over the Clippers, and Green leads the team at 7.3 per game.
Three keys to the game
The "upshot" of ball movement - While Golden State's offense is distinctive in how it spreads opponents and prevents them to rotate defensively, the Warriors turn that ball movement into an art form when the ball doesn't stick. All that passing has helped Golden State shoot a blistering 60.4 percent from inside the arc, a pace which would shatter the NBA single-season record the 2013/14 Miami Heat set at 55.8 percent and a mark the Warriors barely missed matching last season at 55.7. They have an effective field goal percentage of 60.2, which is almost four full percentage points higher than the record of 56.3 the Warriors set last season to beat the record set by the 2015/16 squad.
Amping up Aldridge - Monday's loss marked the first time this season LaMarcus Aldridge did not lead the Spurs in scoring. He has carried the offense without Parker and Leonard, and to his credit, Aldridge is averaging 23.6 points while shooting 49.6 percent. If the Spurs are to avoid a fourth straight defeat, the 6-foot-11 Aldridge will have to stand out on both sides of the court since he'll likely be guarding Kevin Durant.
Putting the Spurs on skates - San Antonio generally do not push the ball and enter the game tied for 21st with 7.9 fast-break points per game. That's almost 20 points below Golden State's NBA-leading 27.1 per contest, so the Spurs can ill-afford to get into a track meet. In the last 18 games including the postseason, the Spurs are 1-5 when the Warriors score 20 or more points in transition but they are 5-1 when holding them to 10 or fewer.
Matchup to watch
Kevin Durant vs. LaMarcus Aldridge - Every positional matchup in this contest carries intrigue and curiosity, but none have the 94-foot impact of Durant versus Aldridge. In some ways, winning the NBA title has liberated Durant to simply feel his way through the offense to maximum impact. His overall shooting percentage is roughly the same at 53.3 percent. His 3-point shooting not only is 49.0 percent, but he's taking 28 percent more shots from beyond the arc this season (6.4) than last (5.0). And with the diverse weaponry of the Warriors, Durant can be facilitator or finisher. Aldridge has to be the latter for the Spurs, and he's shot 53.8 percent while averaging 22.3 points and 10.3 rebounds over the last three meetings. He must demand the ball from his guards and work with Pau Gasol in the low post to have the impact San Antonio needs to win.
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Zaza Pachulia | SF - Draymond Green | PF - Kevin Durant
San Antonio Spurs projected starting lineup
PG - Dejounte Murray | SG - Danny Green | C - Pau Gasol | SF - Kyle Anderson | PF - LaMarcus Aldridge
Spurs forward Rudy Gay missed the last three games Sacramento played against Golden State last season, but the veteran has always found a way to score points versus the Warriors. He's averaged 20.8 points and 5.8 rebounds the last six times he's faced them.
Curry has had just one bad game in his last eight versus San Antonio with 27.4 points and 6.9 assists per game in that span while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range and 49.7 percent overall. Durant has played the Spurs four times since joining Golden State, averaging 27.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 50.0 percent shooting.
It's not every day the Spurs are underdogs, and it's also not every day they're underdogs at home, as the Warriors are 6.5-point favorites. Golden State have multiple trends in their favor, most notably they are 4-1 against the spread in both the last five overall meetings between the teams and in their last five trips to San Antonio. The Warriors have also been a strong road team against the number, going 14-3 in their last seven road games. The over/under of 218 points is tricky; while the over has hit the last five times, four came in Golden State's playoff sweep last postseason. The teams have combined to surpass that total just once in the last ten regular-season meetings, and with the Spurs down two starters, it may be hard to reach that number if the game turns into a blowout.
Though it's always entertaining to watch Popovich cut an exasperated figure on his bench and give notoriously yet amusingly short answers to sideline reporters between quarters, this is a game that will test his patience. His point guard Dejounte Murray has all of 15 NBA starts, his veteran backup guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills are shooting a combined 31.1 percent, and Paul, a rookie, enters this contest coming off the game of his young NBA life. The urge for the younger players will be to run, it will be up to Popovich to remind them not to.
But that's no guarantee it will work for San Antonio, who are tied for 24th in shooting at 42.8 percent. The percentage doesn't matter as much as how rebounds lead to fast-break opportunities for the Warriors, and the aforementioned point differential in transition gives a huge advantage to Golden State. The Warriors have too much offense and too much depth for the Spurs at the moment, and they should pull away for a 115-100 victory.
This game will be televised nationally on TNT and locally on NBC Sports Bay Area and Sportsnet One. Tip-off time is 8 pm ET.
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