Kurt Helin

Warriors vs. Spurs preview: Three things to watch

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Never have two teams playing this well met this late in the season in the NBA.

The 62-6 Golden State Warriors travel to take on the 58-10 San Antonio Spurs (who are 34-0 at home this season) — that’s a combined 89 percent winning percentage. (The previous record was a Bulls/Magic game in April 1996, where the teams had a combined 81.6 percent winning percentage, according to the NBA. Chicago won.) The Spurs are on pace to win 70 games this season and still enter this game four games back of the Warriors.

The last time these teams met, Golden State thumped San Antonio 120-90, but not even die-hard Warriors fans can’t expect a repeat of that night. Heck, there are reasons to write this game off — the Warriors are banged up and on the second night of a road back-to-back, having to play their stars in the fourth quarter of a win over Dallas Friday. Still, this game may be the best way to judge these teams and what they will look like if/when they meet in the Western Conference Finals. Yes, these two play again in April (twice), but by then both coaches will be resting players, and more importantly neither coach will want to tip their strategy hand at that point — those games will have all the Xs and Os details of the Pro Bowl.

Here are three key things to watch on this Saturday night showdown.

1) How much will Golden State miss Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut? Last time these teams met, it was San Antonio missing a key piece — Tim Duncan, still the Spurs’ defensive lynchpin, was out. This time he is back, and it is the Warriors who will be missing a couple of key players.

Andrew Bogut has a strained left big toe suffered Friday against Dallas and is expected to miss Saturday’s game — that’s a big body and smart defender the Warriors need against the LaMarcus Aldridge/Duncan front line of San Antonio (Bogut draws Duncan). Remember, the Warriors can’t turn to Festus Ezeli, he remains out with a knee injury. This likely means more Anderson Varejao, who brings some energy and some rebounding, but generally looks lost and slow in the Warriors’ defensive schemes.

However, the bigger blow is missing Iguodala. He helps settle down the second unit, serving as a secondary ball handler, plus he brings defense to that unit. Iguodala is also an essential part of the small ball “death lineup” that is Golden State’s ultimate weapon — without his defense and ability to score those small lineups are less threatening. Remember, we are talking about the Finals MVP here, he will be missed a lot. Especially against a Spurs bench that has been a dominant force of late.

2) Can San Antonio slow Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? The first time these teams met, Curry had 37 points and hit 6-of-9 threes. Curry and Thompson are coming off a game where they dropped 70 on Dallas. Golden State has had some struggles of late, they have had more than a couple of games where they have looked sloppy (particularly on defense), but the shooting of Curry and Thompson simply bail them out. If San Antonio is going to beat the Warriors (now or in a playoff series), they need to find a way not to let the Splash Brothers go off and dominate.

The Spurs have the best defense in the NBA — by far. This season the Spurs have allowed just 95.7 points per 100 possessions, three per 100 better than the second place Hawks (and five better than the fifth-place Warriors). With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the Spurs have two quality perimeter defenders they can throw at the hot hand. However, Popovich seems to prefer Leonard on Draymond Green and Danny Green on Curry, which allows the Spurs to switch the dreaded Curry/Green pick-and-roll (it’s about as effective a plan as any team has to deal with that play). The challenge is that leaves Tony Parker on Thompson, which could be a field day for Klay, who can shoot over the top of Parker or post him up. The Spurs are usually good at hiding Parker, but there is nowhere to hide against Golden State. It will help the Spurs this time around to have Duncan back in the paint, both to challenge shots and to quarterback their entire defense.

Will all that be enough? Remember last meeting Curry spun Leonard around and made the game’s best perimeter defender look helpless. Curry is on another level right now.

3) Can Golden State disrupt improved play of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard?
Last time these teams met Aldridge was 2-of-9 shooting for five points. Draymond Green drew the defensive assignment most of the night and despite giving up four inches it was Green who was the disruptive force — he did not let Aldridge get to his spots on the floor or feel comfortable. Green’s length still challenged Aldridge’s shots. After the game, Aldridge was so frustrated he deactivated his Twitter and Instagram accounts (although he denied the two were not related).

Of late, Aldridge has been a lot more comfortable. He has developed a real chemistry with Tony Parker and since the All-Star break Aldridge is averaging 20 points a game on 52.6 percent shooting (an impressive true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent), and his assists are up while his turnovers are down. Aldridge has found his groove, can Green push him out of it again?

Then there is Leonard, who is growing in confidence daily on the offensive end. He had 16 points on six shots in the first meeting, but expect more out of him in this get together. Since the All-Star break Leonard has averaged 24.3 points a game, is shooting 46 percent from three, with a 62.1 true shooting percentage. This may be the matchup where the Warriors most miss having Iguodala to throw at Leonard.

The real danger is when Aldridge and Leonard are paired — the Spurs are +18.1 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together post All-Star break. Add Danny Green to the Leonard/Aldridge combo and the Spurs are +25.2 per 100 since the All-Star break, with an offensive rating of 116.2 per 100 possessions. They will be a test for the Warriors’ defense (which has struggled of late due to the injuries).

Watch Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson combine for 70 against Dallas

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It wasn’t always a pretty win for Golden State, for example early on Dallas was carving up the Warriors’ defense. There were plenty of moments of sloppiness.

But that doesn’t matter when Klay Thompson is hitting every shot in sight. And Stephen Curry is banking in corner threes over Dirk Nowitzki.

As has been the case nearly all season, the Warriors put on a shooting clinic that covered other flaws in a 130-112 win over the Mavericks. When the two best shooters in the game are going like this, there’s not much any defense can do.

Although the Spurs would like to test that theory Saturday night.

Ryan Anderson dunks? Yes. With authority on Gerald Henderson.

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This is why Ryan Anderson is one of the best stretch fours in the game — he can do more than just stand in the corner and knock down shots.

He showed that off in New Orleans’ eventual loss to Portland Friday night. Anderson put the ball on the floor and drove past a couple Blazers, then got up and threw it down on Gerald Henderson with authority. Top that.

Kendrick Perkins ejected for foul on Damian Lillard

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Kendrick Perkins is old school. He does not shy away from hard fouls.

But clothesline a guy and you get ejected.

That’s just what Perkins did to Damian Lillard in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game in Portland. Perkins was staying back a little off the high pick-and-roll, which allowed Lillard to run downhill with a full head of steam, and Perkins was trying to keep up. And failing. So he fouled — but it ended up being a clothesline.

A blow to the head or neck like that is an automatic flagrant 2 and an ejection. Following the foul, there was also some chest puffing from Perkins and Mason Plumlee, which amounted to nothing.

Portland won the game 117-112.

Splash Brothers set up San Antonio showdown, topping Mavs 130-112

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DALLAS (AP) — Stephen Curry had several dazzling plays on his way to 31 points, fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson scored 39 and the Golden State Warriors tuned up for a showdown in San Antonio with a 130-112 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.

Among a number of displays that drew roars from the typical swarm of the sharpshooting star’s fans on the road, Curry stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki near midcourt before hitting a 35-footer over him at the first-quarter buzzer. Then he glanced a 3-pointer off the glass from the corner with Nowitzki in his face again in the second quarter.

The Warriors made 14 of their first 17 from long range, finished 22 of 38 and won their seventh straight. Now they try to tackle the NBA’s longest losing streak on another team’s court – 32 straight at the Spurs going back to Feb. 14, 1997.

Nowitzki had 24 points for the Mavericks (34-35), who dropped under .500 for the first time since Nov. 11.

Curry missed Golden State’s first trip to Dallas on Dec. 30, when the Warriors lost for just the second time this season.

So there was plenty of anticipation, including before the game when Masters champion Jordan Spieth, a Dallas resident, lined up with the rest to watch Curry warm up. The two stars later chatted briefly.

The reigning MVP was ready when the game started, hitting a 3 less than 2 minutes in while finishing the first half with 22 points to 20 for Thompson.

They combined to make 11 of 17 from long range before halftime, when the Warriors had the highest-scoring quarter (43) and half (73) against Dallas this season. Golden State also topped the previous game high against the Mavericks, set by the Warriors in a 127-107 win in January.

Although they are fading and now in danger of missing the playoffs in the Western Conference, the Mavericks stayed close into the fourth quarter, getting within 98-97 on a 3-pointer by J.J. Barea, who had 16 points and seven assists.

Thompson scored 11 straight Golden State points before another dribbling display by Curry led to an easy layup for a 111-101 lead with 4:20 remaining.

The Mavericks got within five in the final 3 minutes before another 3-pointer from Thompson started the run that finished off Dallas. Curry barely missed a triple-double, leading the Warriors with 10 assists and nine rebounds.

The dynamic pair backed up some pregame comments from Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who said the Warriors were “bigger than the Rolling Stones on tour” by NBA standards.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr didn’t disagree, saying “I was on the Beatles back in `96, so I guess it’s fitting that I’m now with the Stones. Either way, I was just a roadie setting up the stage for both teams.”

TIP-INS

Warriors: C Andrew Bogut left in the second quarter with a left big toe injury and didn’t return. … Thompson had his 1,000th career 3-pointer in the first quarter. … Harrison Barnes scored 20 points, and Draymond Green had 15 points and eight assists. … Marreese Speights had 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Mavericks: F Chandler Parsons came out midway through the third quarter with right hamstring soreness and didn’t return. He scored 14 points. … G Wesley Matthews had a scare in the fourth quarter when his right knee buckled and he crumpled to the court. But he stayed in the game after a timeout. … David Lee had 16 points and 16 rebounds in his second game against his former team.