The Silver and Black come into the contest riding a pair of consecutive wins and looking to extend their streak to three for the second time this season, only to be rewarded with a matchup with the still incomparable Steph Curry, fresh off of a game-icing shot (and fourteen point fourth-quarter comeback) over LeBron James and the league-leading, title-defending Los Angeles Lakers.
Sporting similar win/loss records, both the Warriors and Spurs have found themselves in positions that have surprised most of the larger media pundits. The Warriors, dealing with the season-ending injury of fellow ‘splash-brother’ Klay Thompson and the all but corporeal collapse of the supposedly gap-filling Kelly Oubre Jr., currently sit a win (and two seeds) behind the Spurs in the standings.
The Spurs meanwhile have been an uneven yet thrillingly youthful revelation in a suddenly vulnerable Western Conference. An increase in pace and long-distance shooting have drastically altered whatever the standard time for a prolonged rebuild can be assumed to be with San Antonio potentially chasing more than an eight-seed if their impassioned youth can be bridled with any regularity.
The end result is a match-up that will likely prove difficult to predict. Without a reliably exceptional contributor in Thompson (and in the wake of Kevin Durant’s exit), the Warriors have been forced to rely on a combination of Curry, the eternally confounding Andrew Wiggins, an impressive-yet-raw James Wiseman, and an inexplicably cold-shooting Oubre.
The result has been a fairly un-warriors-like offense (16th in scoring, 11th in offensive rating) and a defense that goes only as far as Draymond Green can drag it. With Green and a promising Wiseman on the interior, the Warriors have been able keep their interior defense at or above the league average, but the inconsistency that comes with depending on rookie contributions and relying on the likes of Andrew Wiggins has created perimeter woes that have dragged that unit well below the usual standards (19th in defensive rating, 23rd in net rating).
The Spurs on the other hand, appear to have begun to find their stride on that side of the court, breaking into the top ten of team defense (exactly 10th in defensive rating, 12th in net rating) for the first time since The Nephew’s unceremonious exit. But between injuries, absences, and youth of their own, they’ve had difficultly executing offensively on a consistent basis. (15th in scoring, 17th in offensive rating)
Whichever team shows up to play in this contest will determine the victor perhaps even more than usual. Neither squad will be able to coast on any particular strength, and even Stephen Curry can only do so much with his team in its compromised state. Should either team come in without their best, a shellacking will likely be in order. And in the event that both show up in top form, this could end up being quite the game.
But if I were a betting man, I’d be most willing to lay odds on an uneven performance out of both teams with a final burst of concentration being the difference. In any case, it’s always a pleasure to push Curry and Co. to the brink, given the opportunity; so you can certainly bet on me watching every last minute of this one.
Golden State Warriors (7-6) at San Antonio Spurs (8-6)
January 20, 2021 | 9:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Out - Fractured Toe), Quindarry Weatherspoon (Out- Knee)
Warriors Injuries: Klay Thompson (Out - Achilles), Marquese Chriss (lower leg)
What to watch for:
- A Big Defensive Test: Middling offense aside, the Warriors offer a unique challenge for a perimeter defense that has struggled at times. There have been signs of gelling as of late (the Spurs have held two of their last three opponents under 30% from deep), but nothing can strain a perimeter defense like Curry’s long-distance wizardry. If San Antonio can hold the Warriors (and specifically Steph) to an average or below-average conversion rate, it’ll be something they can really hang their hats on, and might even be a sign of greater things to come.
- Will The Real Jakob Poeltl Please Stand Up: Over the past several years I’ve had a habit of pointing out the herky-jerky nature of Dejounte Murray’s game-to-game performances, and the point still stands (the Spurs are 6-2 this season in games that Murray has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio or better in), but Jakob Poeltl has proven to be another Spur who’s made a habit of streaky play. Over the last three games he’s been on a bit of a tear after starting off the season lamer than a one-legged duck, but he still has a tendency to experience lengthy lapses in rim protection and put forth milquetoast post play. I’m a big fan of Poeltl, but he’ll need to even out his performances more if this Spurs team is to continue building on defensive play that has pushed the Silver and Black to a 6-2 record in their last eight contests.
- The Delicate Art Of Team Balance: With nine players seeing more than twenty-two minutes in the win over Portland, the Spurs put on a display of exceptional balance. The mixture of veteran savvy and youthful athleticism was just about perfect, as Pop did some of his best lineup work of the last two seasons. Some of it has to do with veteran buy in (LaMarcus Aldridge really isn’t getting enough credit for that), some of it has to do with blossoming trust in the up-and-coming young ‘uns, but I suspect it mostly has to do with every player being in (or almost in) the zone. That’ll need to become a more regular thing in order for lineups to remain balanced. All it’ll take is a reckless night from the youth, or an off-night for the vets for Pop be forced too lean too heavily on one group or the other. And as we’ve seen so far this season, the key to making it through a still formidable Western Conference comes down to an ideal mixture of both. Here’s hoping the players make it easy on Pop, and by proxy, on the rest of us.
For the Warriors’ fans’ perspective, visit Golden State of Mind.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.