1 - The Spurs' defense is the best in the league by far. What has been the biggest reason for its success?
Michael Erler: The soft schedule and the health of their main principles. As long as Duncan, Leonard, Green and Aldridge are healthy, they'll have an elite defense.
Bruno Passos: Order. They're playing within themselves on offense, limiting turnovers and consistently getting back in transition, and they're owning the defensive glass. Basketball can be chaotic -- a state in which the dreaded Warriors thrive -- and the Spurs' ability to control the pace and flow allows their other strengths to shine.
Jesus Gomez: A short rotation. Unlike other years, the Spurs are playing their starters and mostly going nine deep while staggering minutes so that Leonard plays with the bench. The experimentation is kept to a minimum and that has allowed the Spurs to develop chemistry and familiarity on that end.
Brett Jones: Schedule. As great as the Spurs' defense is, they've played a really light schedule so far this season. Their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) isn't going to suddenly shoot up to 100 or anything, but it'll go up a bit as they play more strong offensive teams.
J.R. Wilco: Length. It's a luxury to have wings the size of Leonard and Green to put next to savvy/mobile bigs as good as Duncan and Aldridge. For years Popovich's defensive scheme has majored on challenging shots. This year, a lot of those challenges are outright blocks.
2- LaMarcus Aldridge's and Kawhi Leonard's numbers are significantly better when they don't share the court. Should Pop stagger their minutes during the regular season?
Erler: I think that would be ideal. They should both get time where they're the number one option as much as possible. I like Kawhi anchoring the bench because without him that unit lives and dies on Patty Mills' shooting and Boris Diaw's aggressiveness and that's too much variance for my liking. Leonard would give them more consistency and Manu can work off him and be more effective. And I like Anderson playing more with the starters where he can just blend in with his passing and let Aldridge and Parker get most of the touches.
Passos: I'd like them to continue trying to develop the chemistry within the starting unit but in the end I can see that being the right call. Aldridge would certainly appreciate more turns as the go-to guy, and it would put constant pressure on defenses.
Gomez: It's a conundrum. They both seem better suited to be first options right now. Changing the rotation to give them both a chance to shine seems like the best solution but they need to learn how to play together, so I want them to have the minutes to do that. Hopefully Pop can get them to get their touches within the flow of the offense instead of taking turns.
Jones: No. The Spurs two best players are bound to share the floor with each other, and the more time they spend doing so early in the season, the better they'll be playing together later in the year.
Wilco: I think the longer Aldridge plays, the better he'll fit in: with the Big Three, with Kawhi, with the team as a whole. I expect his offense to round into shape eventually. In fact, I've decided not to even think about his lower-than-career-average offensive numbers until the Rodeo Road Trip is over.
3- Danny Green is having his worst scoring season since becoming a rotation player. Cold streak or bad fit in the new system?
Erler: I think with Leonard and Aldridge both looking for theirs and Parker going through a bit of a renaissance that Green has been the odd man out. He used to be more of a legitimate third option with the starters last year, especially when he was hot. They would look for him and Pop would call plays for him. Now that isn't happening as much, and also Aldridge isn't as effective a screen setter as Splitter was. The slump has definitely gotten into Green's head. He's missing wide open shots he'd never miss before.
Passos: It's a new fit, but hard to tell if it's a bad one still. I think Green became a creature of habit over the past few years, and maybe the mechanical nature of his shot makes it less malleable than others.
Gomez: I think it's a bad fit. It's not Green's fault, obviously, but he's just not as important as a scorer as he was in past years because the Spurs have made it a point to score inside. As long as he continues to space the floor and play good defense he will earn his money but I don't expect him to have as big a role on the offense, even when he inevitably starts hitting more shots.
Jones: I think it's a nasty combination of both. Some changes to the system, with lots more ball stoppage in the starting unit and another focal point for the offense - not to mention a huge increase in the degree to which Kawhi has become a focal point - seems to have induced one of the longest cold streaks we've ever seen from Danny. I don't know if he needs to play more minutes with the free-wheeling bench squad to help find his shot or what, but I hope he figures it out soon.
Wilco: It's a cold streak. Sure, it's the longest he's ever had, but it's still just a cold streak. I don't think it's a reflections on the offense or the shots he's getting or anything. He's just off ... and he'll come around.
4- Can anyone challenge the Spurs for the second best record in the West if they remain healthy?
Erler: The Thunder can get hot and if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both healthy and on their games they're always a threat to rip off a 15-1 streak. And the Spurs schedule will eventually get a lot more difficult, especially after the All-Star break. But as long as their top guys stay healthy I think the Spurs will win over 60 games, which should be enough to nab a two seed. Rest-wise it could be a nice luxury for Pop knowing he has no chance of catching the Warriors but has enough room below them to not wear anyone out.
Passos: Health is the big caveat in that question and, if healthy, the Spurs should be able to stay in second. I thought the Thunder would challenge and haven't watched enough of their games to say they won't, but I don't think there's another team in that second 'tier' of Western Conference powers.
Gomez: The West is just not as impressive this year. The Clippers might be worse than last season, the Rockets are a mess and the Grizzlies look wobbly. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to be scary but the Thunder are not playing well as a team. I think barring catastrophic injury, the Spurs should finish with the second best record.
Jones: The Thunder. Any team boasting two of the league's top three players by PER is always a threat.
Wilco: I don't think so. I expect to see a big gap between the Warriors and the Spurs, and another gap between the Spurs and everybody else.
5- Who will snap the Warriors' winning streak?
Erler: I've already been wrong three times. I thought they'd lose at the Clippers, then at Toronto, and then Tuesday night at Indy. Now I have no idea. I don't think they'll lost at home on Christmas to the Cavs so the next test after that is a back-to-back on Dec. 30 and 31 at Dallas and Houston. Maybe they'll drop one of those with the distraction of the new year and whatnot. Or maybe they'll just go 98-0 and then play a home-and-home with the Mon-stars to see if they can make it an even 100.
Passos: This has become a great/terrible office pool question. I'm torn between the Christmas day (probably)return of Kyrie Irving and the New Year's Eve Christmas Eve game in Houston. As terrible as Houston is, maybe they'll have figured something out by then, and it could just be one of those games where James Harden goes for 40-plus and doesn't totally kill them with his defensive malaise. I'll go with the Cavs.
Gomez: The Cavaliers on Christmas are probably the safest bet but I think the Suns on Dec.16 have a shot, as crazy as that sounds. They will face the Warriors in their first game home after a long road trip and Golden State will have two days off before facing them. They might catch them off guard.
Jones: The Mavericks. The Warriors crushes the Cavaliers, ushering in feverish debate about whether an undefeated season is possible, only for the Mavs to play spoiler in Dallas the following game.
Wilco: None of the above. The first game the Warriors lose will come on some random night against someone everybody expects them to beat. It'll be a game they trail for most of the second half and their comeback attempt will fall just short.