Spurs-Warriors game preview

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The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) drives past the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) and Tim Duncan (21) in the first half at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Adam Reckamp

The story of the NBA this season has been the incredible success of the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors. After starting the season on a 24 game winning streak, the Warriors hold the top record in the NBA (40-4) and are on pace to challenge the 72-10 record set by the 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls. With all this attention focused on the incredible Golden State Warriors, another historic team is being overlooked. That team is the San Antonio Spurs.

Tonight at 10:30 pm ET, the San Antonio Spurs travel to Oracle Arena to take on the Warriors in the teams’ first matchup of this season. The Spurs have started the season with a 38-6 record, 2 games back of Golden State in the loss column. The Spurs appear to be the only team on the same level as the Warriors fans, and NBA fans have had this game circled on their calendar for months. Both of these historically great teams are within striking distance of the Bulls single season regular season wins record, as well as many other long standing records.

While most NBA fans already have a plethora of knowledge on the fast paced, three point shooting machine that is the Warriors, many aren’t as familiar with this iteration of the Spurs. With the signing of Lamarcus Aldridge in the offseason and the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as an MVP candidate, this Spurs team is different than the teams of the past.

While Golden State wins games with their offense, averaging 114.7 points per game and having the highest offensive rating in the NBA, the Spurs have been dominant on the defensive end of the floor. The Spurs have by far the best defense in the NBA, holding teams to 89.8 points per game and achieving the best defensive rating in basketball history, 95.5.

Kawhi Leonard is the best perimeter defender in the NBA, with his long frame, and defensive instincts allowing him to cause havoc in the passing lanes and smother ball handlers. Leonard sets the tone for the Spurs defense, which if they keep up the pace they’re on, will be the best defense in NBA history. This incredible defense has led to the Spurs, not the Warriors, to having the best point differential in the NBA this season at +14.5.

While these Spurs metrics are impressive, the Warriors have been the better team this year, and their 24 game win streak led many to wonder “How can any team defeat the Warriors.” While admittedly a hard task, there is a formula to beating likely the best team since the ’96 Bulls.

With Steph Curry playing at an all-time great level, scoring 30 ppg and shooting at a vaunted 50-40-90 mark, teams need to have a perimeter defender capable of shutting him down. But with fellow splash brother, Klay Thompson, also being a massive threat, teams really need two elite perimeter defenders. Teams also need a rim protector capable of stopping drives to the rim as well as the alley-oop play GSW likes to run. The Spurs have all of these requirements with elite perimeter defenders in Leonard and Danny Green and Tim Duncan anchoring the paint.

While the Spurs appear to have the necessary parts, shutting down the Warriors is easier said than done.

Curry is playing at an all-time great level, and all-star starter snub Draymond Green is the most versatile power forward in the lead. The small ball lineup of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Barnes-Green is the most unstoppable lineup in the NBA this season. It would have been interesting to see how the Spurs’ bigs would have matched up against this lineup but in a typical Popovich move, Tim Duncan was announced Sunday to be out for Monday’s game with “knee soreness”. Duncan resting will hurt the Spurs on defense but their wealth of frontcourt players should be able to survive.

After missing the first 43 games of the season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr returned to the sideline Friday in a win against the Indiana Pacers. Kerr spoke to his former coach Popovich on the phone Thursday and is looking forward to the challenge of playing the Spurs.

”That’s going to be one of the fun things about this game is that we haven’t played them yet,” said Kerr after practice Sunday. “It’s already almost February. It’s a strange schedule. Win or lose, both teams will really benefit from playing against each other.”

Both teams come into the game hot with the Spurs on a 13 game winning streak, and the Warriors coming off back to back annihilations of the East’s two best teams on the road. The game figures to be extremely tight, but with the Spurs sitting Duncan and the game being played at Oracle arena, look for the Warriors to prevail.