First off, the Warriors (40-4) and the Spurs (38-6) enter a combined 78-10, which is the best combined record of any two teams entering a game in NBA history (minimum of 40 games into a season).
San Antonio owns a 13-game winning streak, while the Warriors have won 11 of their past 13, and neither squad has lost on its home court.
The Spurs and Warriors rank at or near the top of the league in most statistical categories such as point differential (the Spurs are No. 1 and the Warriors are No. 2), offensive rating and defensive rating.
ESPN NBA reporters Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Michael C. Wright take a look at the teams heading into what's the league's most anticipated matchup to this point:
Wright: Steve Kerr is back on the bench. What's the atmosphere surrounding the team, and what, if anything, changes with the coach finally back in the thick of things?
Strauss: The atmosphere is a mixture of giddiness and catharsis. They've been waiting on this all season, not knowing quite when it would happen. Kerr's influence, beyond being stabilizing in general, probably means more minutes for Leandro Barbosa (a Kerr favorite) in the rotation. Also, look for the Warriors to conserve minutes a bit more. Kerr is more of the Gregg Popovich school of minutes conservation and Walton is more of the Phil Jackson school of "if you can play, you can play."
Do the Spurs have a weakness? It would appear the entire roster is comprised of good basketball players.
Wright: Well, if you look at it strictly in terms of basketball, I'd say no. They can score inside or outside, and defensively, the Spurs are a buzz saw with the starters and the bench players. The Spurs do struggle somewhat from time to time against more athletic perimeter players, especially guards, but I don't see it as an issue that will sink them. What folks should pay close attention to is San Antonio's injury situation. Popovich has done a good job of managing everyone's minutes, and for the most part, the Spurs have been healthy. But remember how poorly Tony Parker performed at the end of last season and in the playoffs due to hamstring issues. And he already has been dealing with minor issues so far this season with his feet and hip soreness. Duncan has been held out some games due to knee soreness and will sit out Monday, and LaMarcus Aldridge has also spent time out of the lineup with ankle and back issues. With San Antonio utilizing such a veteran roster, the team's health as the season progresses is probably more of a concern than it would be for younger squads.
It's interesting that the Warriors and the Spurs are both organizations that believe in not taking themselves too seriously. What are your thoughts on why that approach has worked for both teams?
Strauss: It works because not taking yourself seriously can be the antithesis of ego. In a collective effort, an abundance of ego can be corrosive -- people start working to claim morsels of credit over working toward a larger goal. The Spurs and Warriors have stayed focused on the larger goal, in part because they can laugh at themselves every now and again.
Beyond Kawhi Leonard, why is this defense so devastating?
Wright: First off, improving the defense was San Antonio's No. 1 point of emphasis during the preseason, after the way the team performed in the first-round loss last season against the Los Angeles Clippers. Back in October, Popovich called the team's transition defense in Games 6 and 7 against the Clippers the "worst transition defense in the history of basketball." The Clippers outscored the Spurs 33-4 on the break in last year's playoff series, and Popovich figured that since they're usually one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league, they'd better shore up their transition defense. Outside of that, I think San Antonio's emphasis on defense was a function of them still trying to find their way offensively as they work Aldridge into the mix. The Spurs are mature and experienced enough to know that some nights shots will fall, and other nights they won't. But the one thing they can always control is their effort on defense, which as you know can often open up things offensively.
The Warriors look like a team with no weaknesses. What concerns are there for this team moving forward toward the playoffs?
Strauss: They've always struggled with Curry off the floor. A season-long project of theirs will be smoothing out those moments when the MVP takes needed rest. Also, Harrison Barnes hasn't looked quite as explosive since returning from his sprained ankle. There likely are other issues to address, but fixating on them right now can feel a bit like saying, "Boban Marjanovic could stand to be a little taller."
Speaking of the 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic: Is he for real? His numbers have been staggering, but his minutes have been few. Do you see him becoming a legitimate playoff weapon?
Wright: Ethan, he's the real deal, no doubt about it. And he's improving quickly. He's a lot like Leonard in that he has a relentless work ethic and unquenchable thirst for improvement. You see that every time you watch a Spurs workout as Marjanovic spends lots of extra time getting individual coaching after practices from folks like assistant coach Becky Hammon and even veteran players such as Duncan, Matt Bonner and Danny Green. Plus, Marjanovich just has that natural size and strength to go with some of the best shooting touch I've ever seen from a big man. I think the verdict remains out on Marjanovich becoming a legitimate postseason weapon because he simply doesn't play enough minutes to gain the experience he needs. Obviously, he'll probably receive more playing time Monday with Duncan out of the lineup.
Marjanovich will also get more looks throughout the season as Popovich manages the minutes of players. But will they be enough for the staff to become totally comfortable with playing Marjanovich in crucial stretches? I'm not sure. I'll say that if Marjanovich continues to improve at his current rate, he could be a force as soon as next season. I don't think the staff trusts Marjanovich enough just yet to make him a major weapon in the playoffs.