There’s no arguing that the most important game in the 2016-17 regular season thus far arrives Saturday when Golden State visits San Antonio in an ABC national TV game. A Spurs win could alter the 2017 Western Conference playoffs.
As Terrell Owens would say, "get your popcorn ready." Will all due respect to all the great NCAA conference tournament action around the country on Saturday, the best basketball game by far is an NBA Western Conference prime-time showdown between the Warriors and Spurs in San Antonio.
All the “experts” assumed that Golden State would be just fine after losing Kevin Durant to a potentially regular season-ending knee injury early in a Feb. 28 game at Washington. But as of this morning, Kerr announced Warriors All-stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala won't play against San Antonio. Without the entire group that made The Warriors the 2015 NBA Champions, Golden State is a much thinner team in this scenario.
This will be the second of a back-to-back for the Dubs, who visited surging Minnesota on Friday. Golden State had lost three of five entering that one, including the Wizards game where Durant was hurt. Curry has been struggling from the field sans Durant, shooting 43 percent overall (compared to 46.3 on season) and 29.8 percent from 3-point range (compared to 39.7).
The fourth quarter has been a problem area all season for the team. In Wednesday's 99-86 home loss to Boston, the Warriors were outscored a whopping 27-12 in the fourth. Entering the weekend, the Warriors have outscored teams by a combined 767 points in the first three quarters this season but have been outscored by three in the fourth.
Spurs Can Win Season Series
So why do I think a Spurs win Saturday potentially changes the Western Conference playoffs?
When Durant went out, I doubted that San Antonio could catch and pass Golden State for the West's top seed. I no longer doubt that. This story was written before the Warriors played in Minnesota on Friday, but if Golden State lost that game and loses this one, the Spurs would be tied with Golden State in the loss column.
A head-to-head tiebreaker could be crucial at the end of the regular season if Golden State and San Antonio finish with the same record. The teams play three times this year. The Spurs won the first meeting on opening night, 129-100 in Oakland. Durant had 27 points and 10 rebounds in his Warriors debut. The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the floor, as he usually is, with 35 points (15-for-15 from the line), five rebounds, five steals and three assists. LaMarcus Aldridge added 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Should San Antonio win Saturday, it would clinch the season series. If Golden State does, a potential season tiebreaker would be decided March 29, also in San Antonio. I believe the Spurs can beat the Warriors in the playoffs, even with Durant playing, if it has home-court advantage but not without it.
As if there's not enough reason to win Saturday, there's the payback factor for the Spurs regarding their last home game vs. Golden State. San Antonio won an NBA-record 39 straight home games to open last season. However, on April 10, 2016, the Warriors won at AT&T Center 92-86. That prevented the Spurs from becoming the first team to finish 41-0 at home – they ended up 40-1.
That victory allowed the Warriors to tie the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with a record 72 regular-season wins, which of course Golden State increased to 73. Also with that victory, the Warriors became the only team in NBA history to go a season without losing back-to-back games and lone club to go an entire season without losing to the same team more than once.
So, yeah, Saturday's game matters, despite Kerr's decision to rest his top players.
Neither team enters as a good NBA bet of late. San Antonio is 0-6 ATS in its past six games, and the Warriors are 1-7 ATS in their past eight (entering Friday). The home team is 5-2 ATS in the previous seven meetings, so that and the fact the Warriors are playing the second of a back-to-back are why we like the Spurs.