SAN ANTONIO -- The early-season showdown between the San Antonio Spurs and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday is a prime example of how the eight-month NBA campaign is a marathon, not a sprint.
When the two teams square off at the AT&T Center for the first of three regular-season contests, a look at the standings will show that the Spurs and Warriors have had their difficulties over the first three weeks of the year, losing a combined six games already after meeting in the Western Conference finals last year.
But it would be foolish, and hasty, to think both teams won't be in the mix at the end of the season.
Golden State (5-3) heads to the Alamo City on the heels of a 141-113 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, which came a day after the Warrior fell at home to the Detroit Pistons. Stephen Curry scored 31 points and Kevin Durant added 19 on Monday as the Warriors cruised to their 11th consecutive victory over the Clippers.
The end of October used to be the traditional start to the NBA season, so Warriors coach Steve Kerr simply acted as if he were back in his playing days when he spoke to his team.
"That looked like us," Kerr said. "I told the guys that tomorrow is Halloween, which means that (Monday) was opening night. Training camp is over, so we're back to being us."
Offense has not been a problem for the Warriors this season, but their defense and taking care of the ball have been below their lofty standards. When Golden State puts all the pieces together, it is nearly impossible to beat.
"Our defense and our turnovers have been kind of our Achilles' heel so far," Curry said. "Scoring the ball hasn't been a problem. It's just the other things we need to do to be a well-rounded team and the team we expect to be. (Against the Clippers), our defensive effort got us to where we wanted to be, and we kind of controlled the game from the start. We took care of the basketball -- we played Warriors basketball, and now we have to sustain it."
San Antonio (4-3) heads home after losing three straight games on the road -- to Orlando, Indiana and, most recently, to Boston 108-94 on Monday. It was the Celtics' most-lopsided win over San Antonio since March 1997 in Gregg Popovich's first year coaching the Spurs. (San Antonio won 15 games that season).
"We actually played better even though we got our (rear end) kicked," Popovich said. "I saw some things that I liked, but we got a lot of stuff to go over with a lot of new guys."
The Spurs got a career-high 18 points and five rebounds from rookie Brandon Paul, 14 points from Rudy Gay, and 11 points apiece from LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Gasol also pulled down eight rebounds.
San Antonio hit 12 3-pointers in 26 tries but went just 10-for-20 from the foul line.
Asked if he could take something positive from a 1-3 trip, Popovich said, "Well sure, that's why you do this. It doesn't matter if you win or lose, you can improve in both situations."
The Spurs have played their first seven games -- and will continue to do so for a while -- without star forward Kawhi Leonard and veteran point guard Tony Parker, both of whom are recovering from quad injuries.
Reserve forward Joffrey Lauvergne missed the road trip with a sprained ankle, and Manu Ginobili was held out for rest against the Celtics. Lauvergne will miss the Thursday game as well.
On Wednesday, Parker was recalled from his rehab stint with the G League Austin Spurs. San Antonio has given no timeline for Parker's return to the court with the parent club, although he has said he is hopeful it will happen in either November or December
The Spurs beat Golden State twice in three regular-season meetings last season before getting swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. Leonard injured his left ankle in the first game of the playoff series and missed the final three contests.