“You always want to test yourself against the best,” he said Tuesday night. “And this week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers and now the ”
Ginobili uttered the first syllable of Golden State’s nickname, before reversing course.
“First the Blazers, of course,” he said, “but the Warriors too.”
It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.
Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.
“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.
When the teams first met this season on Jan. 25, Golden State administered a 120-90 shellacking by shoving the Spurs out of their comfort zone. The Warriors dictated tempo and forced the Spurs to play at a pace of 106 (possessions per 48 minutes), their fastest-paced game of the season, which played a role in what is still a season-high 25 turnovers for San Antonio.
Popovich often says everything done by the Spurs defensively revolves around Tim Duncan. But Duncan missed the first matchup between the teams due to knee soreness.
With Duncan out of the mix and new addition LaMarcus Aldridge still learning to fit into San Antonio’s system alongside emerging star Kawhi Leonard, the free-agent acquisition had more turnovers (three) than made field goals (two) as he finished with five points in the loss.
This time, though, Duncan is fully healthy, coming off a night in which he scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, in addition to pulling down seven rebounds and contributing two blocks. Aldridge and Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Duncan’s eight-game absence -- starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 -- sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.
They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.
“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”
Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.
“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”
The entire team needs to do the same to have any real shot at unseating the defending NBA champions. Parker said defending Portland guards C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard provided somewhat of a warmup for what the Spurs will face trying to corral Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Golden State, meanwhile, hopes to end a 32-game losing streak during the regular season in the AT&T Center; according to Elias Sports Bureau research, that registers as the league's longest active road losing streak against a single opponent and the second-longest streak of all time.
So while teams typically try to downplay single games during the regular season, in this case even the players relish the opportunity to face a Warriors club chasing 73 wins.
“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.
“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”
Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.
“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.
“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”