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Spurs (38-6) vs. Warriors (40-4) an unprecedented matchup of strength

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The Spurs and Warriors will make history when they meet tonight (10:30 ET on NBA TV).

Never have two teams with as high a combined winning percentage as San San Antonio (38-6) and Golden State (40-4) met this far into the season.

In fact, nobody has come close.

The difference between the combined winning percentage for this game and the second-ranking game – Celtics (34-12) vs. 76ers (46-4) in 1967 – is greater than the difference between No. 2 and No. 42.

Here are the 50 games with the highest combined win percentage this deep into a season (88 combined games):

Game Combined win percentage
Jan. 25, 2015: San Antonio Spurs (38-6) v. Golden State Warriors (40-4) 88.63%
Jan. 24, 1967: Boston Celtics (34-12) v. Philadelphia 76ers (46-4) 83.32%
Feb. 4, 1972: Los Angeles Lakers (44-7) v. Milwaukee Bucks (45-11) 83.17%
Jan. 28, 1981: Boston Celtics (42-9) v. Philadelphia 76ers (44-9) 82.68%
Feb. 6, 2015: Atlanta Hawks (41-9) v. Golden State Warriors (39-8) 82.46%
Apr. 7, 1996: Chicago Bulls (65-8) v. Orlando Magic (55-19) 81.62%
Feb. 5, 2009: Los Angeles Lakers (39-9) v. Boston Celtics (41-9) 81.62%
Feb. 25, 1996: Chicago Bulls (48-6) v. Orlando Magic (40-14) 81.47%
Feb. 4, 1981: Philadelphia 76ers (45-10) v. Boston Celtics (43-10) 81.47%
Feb. 8, 2009: Los Angeles Lakers (40-9) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-9) 81.43%
Mar. 1, 1972: Los Angeles Lakers (57-11) v. Milwaukee Bucks (55-15) 81.15%
Mar. 9, 1997: New York Knicks (46-16) v. Chicago Bulls (53-7) 81.14%
Jan. 30, 1985: Philadelphia 76ers (35-9) v. Boston Celtics (37-8) 80.89%
Feb. 5, 1997: Los Angeles Lakers (34-13) v. Chicago Bulls (42-5) 80.84%
Jan. 27, 1973: New York Knicks (40-12) v. Boston Celtics (40-7) 80.80%
Mar. 14, 2007: Phoenix Suns (49-14) v. Dallas Mavericks (52-10) 80.79%
Mar. 4, 1983: Boston Celtics (42-15) v. Philadelphia 76ers (50-7) 80.69%
Feb. 12, 1967: Boston Celtics (44-14) v. Philadelphia 76ers (52-9) 80.66%
Apr. 16, 1997: Miami Heat (59-20) v. Chicago Bulls (69-11) 80.49%
Mar. 17, 1972: Los Angeles Lakers (64-12) v. Milwaukee Bucks (59-18) 80.38%
Feb. 29, 2000: Los Angeles Lakers (45-11) v. Portland Trail Blazers (45-11) 80.35%
Jan. 28, 1973: New York Knicks (41-12) v. Boston Celtics (40-8) 80.19%
Mar. 8, 1967: Philadelphia 76ers (62-11) v. Boston Celtics (55-18) 80.13%
Feb. 2, 1997: Chicago Bulls (40-5) v. Seattle SuperSonics (32-13) 79.99%
Apr. 1, 2007: Phoenix Suns (54-18) v. Dallas Mavericks (61-11) 79.85%
Feb. 7, 1973: Boston Celtics (43-11) v. Los Angeles Lakers (44-11) 79.81%
Mar. 11, 1967: Boston Celtics (55-19) v. Philadelphia 76ers (63-11) 79.72%
Mar. 18, 2015: Golden State Warriors (53-13) v. Atlanta Hawks (53-14) 79.69%
Mar. 2, 2006: San Antonio Spurs (44-12) v. Dallas Mavericks (45-11) 79.45%
Jan. 15, 1981: Milwaukee Bucks (33-12) v. Philadelphia 76ers (39-7) 79.11%
Mar. 22, 1997: Chicago Bulls (58-9) v. Detroit Pistons (48-19) 79.09%
Jan. 25, 1981: Philadelphia 76ers (43-9) v. Phoenix Suns (40-13) 79.04%
Feb. 16, 1986: Boston Celtics (40-9) v. Los Angeles Lakers (39-12) 78.99%
Mar. 1, 1981: Boston Celtics (51-15) v. Philadelphia 76ers (54-13) 78.94%
Mar. 6, 2009: Boston Celtics (48-14) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-12) 78.68%
Apr. 12, 2009: Cleveland Cavaliers (64-15) v. Boston Celtics (60-19) 78.47%
Feb. 11, 1972: Boston Celtics (42-18) v. Los Angeles Lakers (49-7) 78.44%
Apr. 10, 1997: Chicago Bulls (67-10) v. New York Knicks (53-23) 78.42%
Mar. 28, 2006: Detroit Pistons (55-14) v. Dallas Mavericks (54-16) 78.41%
Mar. 18, 1997: Chicago Bulls (56-9) v. Seattle SuperSonics (45-19) 78.28%
Feb. 8, 2015: Memphis Grizzlies (37-13) v. Atlanta Hawks (42-9) 78.21%
Feb. 14, 1997: Chicago Bulls (43-6) v. Atlanta Hawks (32-15) 78.12%
Apr. 1, 2012: Oklahoma City Thunder (39-12) v. Chicago Bulls (42-11) 77.87%
Feb. 6, 1973: Los Angeles Lakers (43-11) v. New York Knicks (45-14) 77.87%
Mar. 9, 1973: Boston Celtics (57-13) v. Los Angeles Lakers (52-18) 77.85%
Apr. 3, 2009: Orlando Magic (55-19) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (61-14) 77.84%
Apr. 15, 2007: Dallas Mavericks (65-14) v. San Antonio Spurs (58-21) 77.84%
Mar. 31, 2013: Miami Heat (57-15) v. San Antonio Spurs (55-17) 77.77%
Mar. 16, 1983: Philadelphia 76ers (54-9) v. Boston Celtics (44-19) 77.77%
Feb. 17, 1991: Los Angeles Lakers (36-13) v. Portland Trail Blazers (41-9) 77.77%

Reduce the minimum of the range all the way to 30 combined games. Still only one game features a higher combined win percentage than Spurs-Warriors: Houston Rockets (18-1) vs. Seattle SuperSonics (16-1) in 1994.

The closest proximity is probably Bucks (35-8) vs. Lakers (39-3) in 1972. Milwaukee’s win snapped the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak.

It’s just rare for two teams on this level to meet so deep into the season – mostly because it’s rare for two teams to play at this level in the same season.

Not only are Golden State and San Antonio winning frequently, they’re winning big.

The Spurs are outscoring opponents by 14.5 points per game. The Warriors are +12.1 per game. That’d rank as the No. 1 and No. 7 marks of all time over a full season.

Here are the top 20 teams in point difference per game this far into a season, San Antonio in black and Golden State in blue:

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We’ve seen something like this only once before. Beside 2015-16, just one other season produced two teams in the top 20 of margin of victory per game.

In 1971-72, the Lakers (69-13, +13.9) and Bucks (63-19, +13.2) dominated the competition.

Like the Spurs and Warriors, they even shared a conference. Milwaukee was in the West back then. Los Angeles won four of five regular-season meetings then beat the Bucks in six games in the conference finals en route to the title.

Those Bucks – even with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and a championship the previous season – are probably still underrated. They just had the misfortune of playing the same time as a loaded Lakers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.

There just hasn’t been anything like that simultaneous domination – until now.

For perspective, here are the top two teams in point difference per game this far into each season (No. 1 in black, No. 2 in blue):

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However, there’s a big asterisk on the Warriors’ and Spurs success: They haven’t faced each other.

It’s much easier to dominate when not facing the league’s other elite teams. That’ll change soon.

This is the first of four meetings between Golden State and San Antonio. The Warriors still have all three of their games against the third-best Thunder left, and the Spurs also face Oklahoma City thrice more.

For both Golden State and San Antonio to maintain their high average margin of victory, they’ll have to beat up even more convincingly on other teams. After all, they can’t both dominate their four games with each other. They’ll likely pull each other down to the mean.

But perhaps one can keep its résumé so shiny. If so, will it be the Warriors or Spurs?

Someone will land the first blow in tonight’s historic matchup.

If you’re a Comcast subscriber in the Bay Area, you can stream tonight’s Warriors-Spurs game here.

Gregg Popovich on USA loss: “You can learn as much or more from losing as winning”

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A philosophical coach Gregg Popovich was looking at the big picture after Team USA lost an international exhibition game for the first time since 2004.

The ultimate goal is to win the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, which starts in a week in China, and a sloppy loss to a cohesive Australian team — led by a red-hot Patty Mills who had 30 points — may be what lights the fire under Team USA in a way nothing else can.

“You can learn as much or more from losing as winning,” Popovich said (via an NBL video of his postgame press conference). “We’re all used to winning and losing. USA has been a little bit different over the last 12 years, used to winning, so hopefully, we can get back on that track….

“The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of competition, so we’re getting used to that and hopefully learning.”

Popovich was quick to compliment the Australians — calling the Spurs’ Mills “a pain in the ass” — a lot of his focus was on the defensive issues Team USA showed in the loss.

“That’s got to be our calling card. We scored 94 and that’s good enough, but we didn’t hold them the way we needed to defensively,” Popovich said. “To us, it’s obvious that that’s what we have to be. We have to be a good defensive and rebounding team. We did that [in a 15-point win over this same Australian team two days before], but we didn’t do it today.”

This game was a reminder that while the Americans may be the most talented and deepest team in the World Cup field, their margin for error is small. Blame that on the guys who stayed home for the Americans if you want, but the reality is the rest of the world is closing the gap on the USA also. For this USA Basketball squad there is a slim margin for error, and the Australians were the more cohesive and physical team on Saturday.

Team USA has one more exhibition game, against Canada in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup. Team USA’s first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic. The USA also will face Turkey and Japan in the first round of group play.

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home means the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia and Spain — not to mention Australia — have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after the USA had beaten this same team by 15 points, pulling away in the second half.

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Defensively, Australia got to the rim all night long — they scored 46 points in the paint (compared to the USA’s 26). Most of that came on cutters that American defenders lost and Utah’s Joe Ingles or Andrew Bogut found with a nifty pass. During training camp, to a man Team USA members said defense needs to be their calling card, but on Saturday they looked lost on that end.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points. The Australian team played as a unit and their off-the-ball movement was impressive.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.