SAN ANTONIO SPURS
at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
The Spurs don't appear to be a huge threat to the Warriors without Kawhi Leonard.San Antonio tends to be overlooked every regular season. Usually, it's the team being under-discussed despite winning at an elite level. That's kind of the case this year as the Spurs chug along at 35-21, but more notable is the absence of SF Kawhi Leonard, who has barely played with this season with an injured quad. One can't help but think that a similar injury to James Harden, Russell Westbrook or Steph Curry, for example, would receive a lot more scrutiny. This is an instance where the Spurs are probably thankful to be flying under the radar. But the injury is still a huge deal for the team and the organization, and one imagines they have no shot at competing against the Warriors in the playoffs without Kawhi playing at his best. We'll get some idea of whether or not that's true on Saturday night, when San Antonio pays a visit to the Bay for a primetime matchup with Golden State. The Spurs also figure to be without injured SF Rudy Gay, who had been filling many of Leonard's minutes. The Dubs will be without bouncy rookie PF Jordan Bell.
Without Leonard and Gay, the Spurs have a decent array of backup wings that are stepping up to play at the small forward position. SF Kyle Anderson isn't the prototypical forward—or the prototypical anything—but he has a well-rounded set of skills. He's long and a good rebounder, and he sees the court clearly. Latvian SF Davis Bertans has emerged as an NBA sophomore thanks to the injuries, and while he'll never be mistaken for Leonard—or even Gay—he's fitting into the system well. Those two both started against Phoenix on Wednesday night, a game that the Spurs won by a staggering 48 points. PG Dejounte Murray is also a recent addition to the starting lineup, having recently supplanted veteran PG Tony Parker as starting point guard. He had 14 points in only 13 minutes in that game. PF LaMarcus Aldridge is easily the team's No. 1 offensive option without Leonard in the lineup, and he's looked happy and comfortable in that role. He had 23 points in 28 minutes against the Suns. The trio of Parker, PG Patty Mills and SG Manu Ginobili are key guards off the bench, while C Pau Gasol is the premiere big who comes in as a sub.
Steve Kerr recently spoke about how mentally exhausted his Warriors team is, and that's no surprise given how challenging it can be to play at an unprecedented level of basketball for multiple years. Entering Thursday night's matchup against the Mavericks, the Dubs startlingly had lost three of their last four games, including a 20-point loss in Oklahoma City and a 30-point loss in Utah. This is certainly the most vulnerable they've looked all season, and it's easy to imagine that they'll never look this vulnerable again for the rest of the campaign. The team is a little banged up with minor injuries: SF Kevin Durant, PF Draymond Green, PF David West and PG Shaun Livingston were all listed as probable for the Dallas game. Of course, if they're healthy and focused, Golden State is arguably the best basketball team to ever play. Curry is making a legitimate run at MVP despite sharing the lineup with Durant, and it's worth taking the time to appreciate just how remarkable his shooting is—we've come to take it for granted. Durant, somehow, keeps improving, and has emerged as a trendy candidate for defensive player of the year. Of course, the reigning DPOTY is Green, and he's as strong as ever hounding opponents and protecting the basket. SG Klay Thompson is shooting better than ever from deep—which is saying something—and a supporting cast that includes West, Livingston, SF Andre Iguodala and SG Nick Young means Golden State has possibly the league's deepest bench in addition to its most jaw-dropping starting lineup.