If you think the race for the top seed in the NBA's Western Conference will be foremost in the minds of the coaches and players when the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs meet Saturday in San Antonio, then you don't understand the long-term mindset of the two franchises.
It'll no doubt be a glamour matchup, a near-the-end-of-the-regular-season showdown between the teams with the top two records in the NBA and the Western Conference. The Warriors and Spurs are the only two squads in the league that have won 50 games and clinched playoff berths and, along with defending champion Cleveland (and perhaps Houston and Boston) are the class of the NBA.
But the top seed in the Western Conference is not a specific goal for either team -- being at their best for the postseason is much more important. Golden State heads to San Antonio with a 1 1/2-game lead on the Spurs, but the Spurs defeated the Warriors on opening night in the only meeting this season.
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A victory by the Spurs on Saturday or on March 29 in San Antonio when the teams meet for the third and final time in the regular season would grant San Antonio any tiebreaker with the Warriors.
The Warriors head to the Alamo City on the heels of a 103-102 loss at Minnesota on Friday night and a long, wee-hours-of-the-night flight to south Texas.
Coach Steve Kerry said All-Stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond, plus top reserve Andre Iguodala will not play in San Antonio because they need rest.
The Warriors recalled 7-foot center Damian Jones from the Santa Cruz Warriors and he will be in uniform for the Spurs game.
Golden State (52-13) holds the top spot in the West but has lost four of its last six games.
"We're in a tough spot in the schedule, obviously, and with Kevin 1/8Durant 3/8's injury," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said after the loss to Boston. "Everybody goes through this at some point during the season. You just make your way through and let everybody else freak out and panic. You just keep your nose down and keep working and things work out."
Golden State is more than a little worn down from playing seven games in seven cities during the past 12 days, a situation that prodded Kerr to rest his star players in a crucial stretch of the fourth quarter in a 99-86 home loss on Wednesday to Boston.
"There is no way we were going to let them play the whole quarter, especially with this stretch of games that we are on," Kerr said. "That was a time we had to get them out. We still want the No. 1 seed, but we are not going to run guys ragged to get it."
The Spurs return to San Antonio for the fifth of their 12 home games in March and after a 102-92 road loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday that snapped their nine-game winning streak.
Kawhi Leonard finished with 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting for San Antonio but sat out the entire fourth quarter after being hit in the mouth area. On Friday, the Spurs ruled out Leonard for Saturday against Golden State as he goes through the league's concussion protocol. It's possible that he will miss more than just the game against the Warriors.
"He got hit in the mouth, or in the cheek, or in the head or something," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "I'm not sure which. So the trainer thought he should sit."
The Spurs announced Saturday that forward LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely because of an occurrence of a minor heart arrhythmia,
Pau Gasol scored 18 points and LaMarcus Aldridge posted 17 points and six rebounds as the Spurs (50-14) never had an answer for Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder.
Popovich said the loss of his MVP candidate had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
"They would have beat us anyway," Popovich said. "If Kawhi had played in the fourth and they continued to do what they were doing and we continued to do what we were doing they would have won anyways. We never make excuses. We got our butts kicked."
Popovich, who rested starting guard Tony Parker and key reserves Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson against the Thunder a night after he sat Leonard and Aldridge versus Sacramento, has continually shown his disdain for any kind of outward chase of the conference's top seed.
But the Spurs expect to win every time they take the floor, no matter the personnel Popovich decides to use. San Antonio clinched a record 18th straight seasons with 50 or more wins with a 28-point comeback victory over Sacramento on Wednesday.