The San Antonio Spurs have been home resting for a week since they swept the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, they face the upstart Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals, starting Monday in the Alamo City.
The rest has been welcome for the Spurs.
"It's been good. We're taking advantage of it," said the venerable Tim Duncan. "We're using the time to rest up. You don't want to lose the rhythm. We're practicing hard."
The Spurs faced the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and without Steve Nash for two of the four games. The Lakers pounded it inside to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, now the up-tempo Warriors await.
"The pace is going to be different than the last team we played," Duncan said. "It's going to take a little while."
The Warriors scored 1.0 ppg than the Lakers, but the manner they did it was starkly different. Golden State is younger than the Lakers and tries to get out and run the floor.
Golden State beat the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in six games. The clincher came Thursday night in front of a raucous crowd at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors haven't advanced to this point in the postseason since 2007. They haven't won two series in the playoffs since winning the NBA title after the 1974-75 season. In fact, they haven't taken more than a game in this round of the playoffs since 1977.
"This is a scrappy group," said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. "I'm extremely blessed to be in this position. That's a special group. This is the greatest group of men I've ever been around as a team."
The Warriors and Spurs split the four regular-season matchups with the home team winning each time. When Golden State beat the Spurs on Feb. 22, it snapped a 16-game losing streak to San Antonio.
It's worse for the Warriors in San Antonio. They've dropped 29 straight as the visitor in this series and their last victory in San Antonio came on Valentine's Day in 1997.
For some perspective, Warriors star guard Steph Curry was one month away from turning nine years old the last time Golden State won a game in San Antonio.
"If I was picking this series, I'd give them the check-mark," acknowledged Jackson. "It's a model organization. They've got three future Hall of Fame basketball players, a future Hall of Fame coach. It's going to be a tough task. They are clearly the favorite.
"It's going to be fun."
BACKCOURT: The point guards in this series are spectacular.
Tony Parker was a fringe MVP candidate before going down with a sprained ankle with about a month to go in the regular season. He averaged 20.3 ppg and 7.6 apg during the regular season and his playoff numbers are up to 22.3 ppg. Danny Green was a double-figure scorer in season, but he's down to 7.0 ppg in the postseason.
Curry has become a superstar before our eyes. He is fifth in playoff scoring at 24.3 ppg and leads the postseason in assists at 9.3. Curry made the most 3- pointers in a season in NBA history and he and his backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, own the league's record for successful 3-pointers by teammates. Thompson's scoring is down almost 2.0 ppg in the postseason.
EDGE: WARRIORS (slightly, very slightly)
FRONTCOURT: Duncan has enjoyed a career resurgence with averages of 17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2,65 bpg. The rebounding and blocked shots numbers are down in the postseason, but the Spurs haven't needed him that much. Kawhi Leonard is scoring more in the postseason and has emerged as a great perimeter defender. Center Tiago Splitter improved greatly during this campaign, but sprained his left ankle in Game 3 against the Lakers and didn't play in Game 4.
The Warriors battled serious injury problems on their frontline. David Lee tore his right hip flexor in Game 1 against the Nuggets and was ruled out for the postseason. Naturally, he returned in Game 6, but only played 1:30.
"I felt like I could go out and energize the crowd a little bit," said Lee. "I've gone from not being able to walk to play on one leg. We're going to have to see what happens."
Jackson and Lee both commented that Lee's status for this series is unknown. He won't be at full strength, that much is certain. He led the NBA in double- doubles. Harrison Barnes, the rookie who started all season, jumped his scoring numbers from 9.2 ppg to 14.7 ppg. Andrew Bogut struggled scoring against the Nuggets, but had a 21-rebound game in the clincher.
BENCH: The Spurs have 10 players averaging at least 10 mpg in the playoffs. Granted, some of San Antonio's wins were blowouts, but eight Spurs average 6.5 ppg or better during the Lakers series. Manu Ginobili is a Hall of Famer, who, when healthy, is still an elite play-maker. Matt Bonner went 6-for-8 from the 3-point line against L.A.
Eight Warriors played in every game against Denver. The bench received a blow when Lee went down. Jarrett Jack finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but started some in the playoffs. Carl Landry is a huge contributor and Draymond Green, the rookie from Michigan State, and Festus Ezeli both became significant parts of the Warriors rotation. But, if Jack or Landry have to start in Lee's absence, the bench just doesn't have enough pieces.
COACHING: Gregg Popovich has four NBA Championships and will go into the Hall of Fame.
Jackson has gotten everything possible from this roster. You can feel the love he has for his players and the feeling is mutual. Jackson played the game in the first round, accusing the Nuggets of playing "dirty." He denied it was a ploy to buy some calls in Game 6, but Kenneth Faried picked up three quick fouls at a crucial time. Jackson is a great coach, but nowhere near the Pop level.
PREDICTION: Well, if Jackson is going to give the Spurs a "check-mark," why shouldn't everyone?
The Spurs are battle-tested and the best thing that could have happened to them is rest. Maybe they're a little shaky early on, being out of game action for a while and playing a different type of team like the Warriors, but they'll get it together.
With the experience and that incredibly daunting home winning streak over Golden State, it just seems like everything points in the Spurs' favor.
SPORTSNETWORK PREDICTION: SPURS in 5.