Since the outset of the NBA season, one date in particular has been circled on the calendars of basketball fans. More than halfway through the league’s regular season schedule, we’ve finally made it. January 25, 2016.
It’s time for Warriors vs. Spurs, baby.
The league couldn’t have asked for a better prologue for the main story. Golden State raced out to what is now a 40-4 record, not missing a beat with Luke Walton at the helm. Now that Steve Kerr is back behind the bench, things are already looking even sunnier in California.
San Antonio has remained in close pursuit at 38-6, winning games and taking names in typical Spursian fashion. Lamarcus Aldridge has fit in sooner than many anticipated; Tony Parker is enjoying a bounceback season; Kawhi Leonard would be MVP at this point, if not for that #30 playing for tonight’s opponent; and Boban Marjanovic is a productive NBA player in limited minutes.
In anticipation of tonight’s matchup, here are some important (important-ish?) questions that need answering.
1) Who guards Steph Curry?
For all the talk of Parker’s resurgence this season, it would be less than ideal for the Spurs to have their starting point guard chasing Curry around for more than a few minutes at a time. Thankfully, San Antonio has options. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are both elite perimeter defenders, and the Spurs have quick options off the bench in Patty Mills and Ray McCallum.
The problem that then surfaces for San Antonio:
2) Who else does Tony Parker defend?
If Green or Leonard start with the Curry assignment, Parker’s other options aren’t much fun in their own right. Klay Thompson is constantly moving, cutting, and screening, and at 6’7″, has both the height and quick release to give even similarly-sized defenders issues. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green are both too big and strong to be realistically considered. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see…
3) How will Gregg Popovich manage minutes?
Ideally, San Antonio will throw a variety of different defensive looks at the Splash Brothers, while allowing Parker to be used as a spark against Golden State’s reserve guards. The nice thing for Popovich, as always seems to be the case, is that he has a deep and productive bench to work with. Need shooting? Patty Mills is the Australian Stephen Curry (please realize that there’s a large gap between this title and the Actual Stephen Curry). Want to optimize that patented Spurs ball movement? Get Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw making plays that are mind-blowingly still happening 32 years after both players entered the league. Feel like making people ask “Who the hell is Jonathan Simmons?” Put in Jonathan Simmons, because he’s a legitimate NBA player and not some made-up name that I easily could have slipped by you. Google him, seriously.
4) How much does this game really mean?
To the fans? Everything. This is the most eagerly-anticipated game of the regular season to this point, and for good reason. Tonight is a chance for both of these teams to make a statement. For Golden State, it’s the latest obstacle on the path to what could potentially be the most successful regular season in NBA history. For San Antonio, this is will be their greatest test yet in a season that has so far led them to an average point differential of 14.5/game.
To these two teams, though, there’s the feeling that the result of tonight’s game won’t cause anyone to lose too much sleep. Kerr, a former Spur himself, will have his Warriors understand that the more important battle between these two juggernauts could very well take place late in the spring. Likewise, Popovich and the Spurs understand what’s truly important in this league.
What that being said, it would be crazy to think both teams wouldn’t love to win this game. It’s a shame Tim Duncan will be out due to injury, but let’s hope that a) he’s ready to go when the games really matter; and b) that we get a game worthy of the two best teams in basketball. Enjoy it, everyone.