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Tim Duncan-less Spurs prep to face Western Conference juggernaut

OAKLAND, Calif. -- San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili understands the daunting challenge Tuesday, when his squad faces the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, and he admits the Spurs need "to be close to perfect to beat them."

Amplifying the difficulty of accomplishing that goal is the fact that for the first time in 20 years, the Spurs will hit the court without franchise stalwart Tim Duncan on the roster. Sure, the Spurs saw dwindling production from Duncan over the past two seasons, but nobody in San Antonio disputes his value or how much the club will miss him Tuesday night.

"We haven't started yet," Ginobili said. "When you are in training camp, you are not in full-steam mentally. You are trying to get in shape. You are trying to remember the plays and bring everything back. This is just the beginning, and this is when we are going to start missing him and [Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner]. So we are going to miss all three. We have to know he is not coming back, and we have to face it."

In addition to being without Duncan, San Antonio must face what has been billed as a Western Conference juggernaut -- thanks to the addition of Kevin Durant -- without help from one of its top defenders, guard Danny Green, who is expected to miss in the neighborhood of three weeks because of a quadriceps strain. It is expected that Jonathon Simmons or Kyle Anderson will start in Green's place.

Even with Green in the fold, San Antonio would face a nearly impossible task in trying to defend Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant -- especially without Duncan as the center of the Spurs' defense.

"As you know, you don’t have any control over [the opponents on the schedule]," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "So we will find a whole lot of things we need to work on after that game, for sure. [Green] is probably more important to us defensively against a team like that than he is offensively. He is going to make or miss shots. But at the defensive end, he has really been important for us. And against a team that runs offense so well, like Golden State, that will be a challenge."

Ginobili played alongside Duncan and point guard Tony Parker for 14 seasons, and the group piled up more victories in the regular season (575) and postseason (126) than any trio in NBA history. The club now expects to maintain championship aspirations with new pieces in second-year Spur LaMarcus Aldridge, the blossoming Kawhi Leonard and newcomer Pau Gasol against a Warriors squad coming off a 73-win season.

Let's not forget that the Spurs captured a franchise-record 67 wins in 2015-16. Still, they expect to feel Duncan's absence, which should extend beyond the court, given that he helped establish the current culture in San Antonio.

"I don't think you can choose, like, one thing," Parker said. "It's the whole package. We are definitely going to miss him. You can't replace a guy like that. He's been the face of the franchise for the past two decades. Yeah, it's going to be weird without him, especially because we have a lot of young guys, a lot of new faces, so there's going to be a lot of teaching at the beginning of the season."

Popovich anticipates that it will take approximately a month for the Spurs to adjust to all the new players and said, "When it happens, it happens." Parker expects the club's identity to change "to a certain extent."

"But that's why myself and Manu will have an even bigger role, leadership-wise, to make sure we keep that same mentality in the locker room and to make sure that everybody only cares about winning," he said.

In all, Duncan combined with Popovich to capture 1,001 victories, which rank as the most by any player-coach duo in NBA history. San Antonio triumphed in 71 percent of its outings since drafting Duncan, which ranks as the best stretch over the past 19 years by any team in the NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL. With Duncan in the fold, the Spurs captured five championships and never missed the playoffs.

With Ginobili's career starting to come to its end, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford expressed gratitude that the veteran decided to stay in the wake of Duncan's departure.

“To have had to replace them both at the same time would have been even more impactful than when each one decides to leave as individuals," Buford said. "I don't know how you judge that or gauge that, other than we know there is a transition approaching for our organization, and it will be better if it's a more managed transition than if it all happens at the same time."

Golden State owns a regular-season record of 140-24 the past two seasons, but the Warriors are 4-3 against San Antonio and finished last season 3-1 in the series between the teams. No matter the challenge, San Antonio expects to be in the chase for a championship. The Spurs rank third in the league in over/under lines for wins (56.5) and title odds (6-1), according to the Westgate SportsBook in Las Vegas, with the Warriors and Cavaliers holding the Nos. 1 and 2 spots.

When the subject of titles was broached Sunday before the Spurs hit the road, Aldridge asked, "Do I have to answer that?"

"I don't have to answer that," Aldridge said. "This organization has always been about winning championships. That's always a given."