ESPN had to get creative with their “Turn Down For What” promo considering five All-Stars missed Saturday night’s nationally-televised showcase between the Spurs and Warriors. They went with, “TURN DOWN FOR THE TWO BEST TEAMS IN THE LEAGUE! Seriously, look at the standings…”
Lil Jon hit the nail on the head, and probably caused many casual basketball fans who saw the commercial to say, “HOOOWHAAAAAT?!?!” The Spurs have flown under the radar in a year where the national media has focused on James Harden’s resurgence, Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles, and a potential third consecutive NBA Finals matchup between the Cavaliers and Warriors.
Over the radar is probably a better way to put it, considering the Spurs are on pace for 65 wins this year. NBA fans have gotten used to seeing San Antonio near the top of the West because they’ve won so consistently for the past two decades. Death, taxes, and Coach Popovich winning 50 games. It’s the same kind of sustained greatness that has fans and MVP voters bored of LeBron James. It’s a given at this point, and new storylines make for more interesting news.
The Spurs don’t care about any of that; they’d probably actually prefer it if fans and players alike forgot how good they were. However, they’re becoming increasingly difficult for the national media to ignore. Kawhi Leonard’s superhuman sequence to secure a win over the Rockets propelled him to the top of the MVP discussion (for a news cycle or so), and now the Spurs sit atop the entire NBA.
San Antonio moved to the first seed in the Western Conference with Monday night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. The Spurs tied the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA at 52-14, and earlier this past weekend they secured the tiebreaker over the Warriors by throttling them 107-85 in the battle of the backups. Both teams have 16 games left in the regular season, including one game against each other in two weeks.
The Spurs got here by winning all but one of their last twelve games, and 16 of their last 19. The hottest team in the league made their move to the top of the standings as Golden State sputtered, losing five of seven since Kevin Durant’s injury. All seven of those games were in different cities, and the road-weary Dubs rested their All-Stars on the second night of a back-to-back in San Antonio.
The Warriors start a three game home-stand against the 76ers on Tuesday night, then host Orlando and Milwaukee, followed by a back-to-back in Oklahoma City and Dallas, then they come back to Oracle Arena for games against the Grizzlies and Kings. Ordinarily, these would be easily winnable games for Golden State, but they don’t look like themselves since replacing one of the game’s best players with Matt Barnes. The next week the Warriors will play in Houston, in San Antonio the next night, and at home against the Rockets.
San Antonio has a relatively soft upcoming schedule, playing against Portland, Memphis twice, Sacramento, and the Knicks. The Spurs will finish a four-game home stand with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and one last regular season matchup against the Warriors.
Many variables are up in the air ahead of the March 29th game between the Spurs and Warriors. Will Steve Kerr rest players again on the second night of a back-to-back? Will Golden State figure things out without Durant, and could he be back for that game? How will San Antonio fare without LaMarcus Aldridge, and when will he return after his minor heart arrhythmia?
Aldridge’s health is concerning outside of a basketball context, and well wishes have poured in for the big man from across the league. He saw a doctor Monday, and hopefully he’ll be able to return to basketball activities sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the burden on Leonard will be even greater than it has been all season.
If Leonard is able to carry this team to the first overall seed without Aldridge down the stretch, that should boost his chances at winning the MVP. After Monday night’s win, Kawhi didn’t mention the individual award at all, and didn’t seem all that enthused about the first overall seed.
He said that it would be good to have home court advantage through the playoffs, but made it clear that the end goal wasn’t to have the best record after 82 games.
“We’ve been here before and lost in the playoffs early. We’re still trying to focus in, the number one seed doesn’t mean anything.” Kawhi continued in that muted voice of his, “We want to get to the Finals and win.”