In what may be a first round preview, the 45-35, currently seventh seeded Golden State Warriors face the 58-22, second seeded San Antonio Spurs in Oakland.
Much to the dismay of those who believe in the predictive power of single game samples, Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich has chosen to rest the injured Tony Parker, elderly Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, who will join Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobli on the Spurs’ bench.
Though Popovich appears to have surrendered the top seed in the Western Conference to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who enter tonight with a single game lead and season record tiebreaker over the Spurs, the result has playoff implications for the Warriors. The Rockets, whom the Warriors trail for the sixth seed by virtue of the season series tiebreak, play the Phoenix Suns tonight. The game is in Phoenix, but the Rockets are heavy favorites to win. To keep pace with the Rockets and maintain distance from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors must win tonight.
This game against the depleted Spurs and the season finale versus the “injury-riddled and definitely not tanking” Portland Trail Blazers present an opportunity for the Warriors to develop the confidence and execution they will need in the playoffs. While any playoff opponent is capable of disrupting the Warriors’ momentum, after being blown out in Oklahoma City and disappointed in Los Angeles, a resounding win would be a welcome change.
With Duncan in the game, the Spurs allow 99.3 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the defense falters, allowing 103.4 (basketball reference). Expect the Warriors to take advantage of Duncan’s absence to penetrate off the pick and roll. While Tiago Splitter is a decent pick-and-roll defender, allowing 1.01 points per field goal attempt by the roll man, per mysynergysports.com, without Duncan in the game, the Spurs’ tendency to “ice” high pick-and-rolls will draw Splitter out of position to defend the roll man, leaving defenders far less experienced and talented than Duncan to help.
In what is a relatively rare occurrence in Warriors’ history, the Warriors should be expected to win this game.