SAN ANTONIO SPURS (37-27)
at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (49-14)
Tip-off: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
A hobbled Spurs squad would seem to stand little chance at Oracle.
For 20 years now, give or take, basketball fans have had the luxury of knowing they can totally ignore the ebbs and flows of regular-season basketball in San Antonio, and that when playoff time comes around, the Spurs will be there seriously competing for a spot in the NBA Finals. But while San Antonio is probably locked into a playoff spot once again this season, it's the rare campaign where there's good reason to believe they won't be real contenders. The team has managed a winning record despite missing superstar SF Kawhi Leonard for nearly the entire season, but the suddenly real-seeming possibilities that he won't play again this year or, worse, won't play for the Spurs ever again, now loom ominously over the the franchise. If you ignore the uniforms, the shells of PG Tony Parker and SG Manu Ginobili, and head coach Gregg Popovich's presence on the sidelines, this team looks like one of the least talented in the NBA. The day may come where the Warriors wither away in a similar fashion—or, more likely, part ways—but for now they remain the class of the league. Golden State trails Houston in the standings but doesn't really seem to care, and they certainly won't reach the 70-win heights they'd be capable of if they were fully engaged. But a sometimes-distracted Golden State team is still the best team in the league, and they figure to be paying attention for a matchup against San Antonio in which no love is lost. The two teams have played twice this season, with Golden State winning both by an average margin of 18.5 points.
The Spurs have won only three of their last 10 games, and were fortunate to get a 100-98 win over a tanking Memphis team on Monday night. What wasn't so fortunate was the shoulder injury that C Pau Gasol suffered, a malady that may keep him out of the lineup for Thursday's game in Oakland. While Gasol isn't the impact player he once was, absence would represent a further depletion of an already banged-up front line. But that injury paled in comparison to the one sustained by SF Rudy Gay, who—brace yourself—blew out his eardrum. He somehow managed to re-enter the game, but at the very least his ability to hear calls for defensive switches will be limited when they come from his left. PF LaMarcus Aldridge, easily the team's go-to option with Leonard sidelined indefinitely, laid a dud with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. In his defense, he was returning from a (single-game) absence due to a minor ankle injury, but he'll need to do a lot more than that if San Antonio wants to hang with the Warriors. So who isn't injured on the Spurs? Well, there's Parker, who surprised with a season-high 23 points against Memphis to carry his team to the win. If he can come up with another circa-2008 performance on Wednesday, it would certainly help the Spurs out. Parker now comes off the bench behind starting PG Dejounte Murray, who, at least at this point in his career, is not very good. PF Davis Bertans chipped in 17 off the bench on Monday in only 19 minutes, and he may start on Thursday if Gasol is out.
Some minor injury news—and recovery news—out of the Warriors' camp: PG Steph Curry hurt his ankle in Atlanta on Friday, but said he didn't expect to miss any time. Backup PG Shaun Livingston missed that game for rest, giving backup-backup PG Quinn Cook a chance at a few minutes. Livingston, too, figures to be in the lineup on Thursday. Also back in action should be PF Jordan Bell, the energetic rookie from Oregon who spent the weekend in the G-League as he works his way back from an old ankle injury and a newer back one. For a team with the aforementioned occasional lack of focus, the intensity Bell brings to the floor could be more important than it may seem. The Warriors escaped Atlanta with only a five-point win over a bad Hawks team, thanks to 28 from Curry. Pretty much all of those points came in the first half, as he left the came for good in the third after tweaking his ankle. SF Kevin Durant did his usual routine of scoring a ton of points and making it look extremely easy, dropping 28 on 12-of-19 shooting. PF Draymond Green only had two points on three shots, but pitched in significantly with nine assists and seven boards. Knowing Green, he's licking his chops to defensively dominate a hobbled Aldridge. SG Nick Young, who would probably be the third-best scoring option on San Antonio right now, added 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench in Atlanta.