Why the Spurs are favored to beat the Warriors

By Real Plus-Minus, Kawhi Leonard is having a better season than even Stephen Curry. Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors are 62-6 this season, the best 68-game start in NBA history. The record-setting 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were 60-8 through 68 games.

So how can the San Antonio Spurs be favored in Saturday night’s showdown (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App) against the Warriors? How can the Spurs be 4.5-point favorites (as of Saturday afternoon) on the betting line and 66 percent likely to win according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index?

Here are some reasons.

Scoring margin matters

The Spurs -- not the Warriors -- lead the NBA in scoring margin. And scoring margin has proved historically to be more predictive of future success than simply a win-loss record.

Moreover, an average margin of plus-12.3 points per game by the Spurs (to the Warriors’ plus-11.5) gets magnified when accounting for the Spurs’ slower pace. Net efficiency (that is, adjusting scoring margin for pace) is generally more predictive of future performance.

Timing and place matter

Consider also the element of rest. The Spurs’ last game was Thursday, in San Antonio. The Warriors played Friday night in Dallas.

The Spurs are undefeated at home this season and have trailed in the fourth quarter in four of their 34 home games. It’s worth noting that the Warriors are 59 percent BPI favorites in their home game against the Spurs on April 9.

Analytical angles

The Warriors’ offense is, according to BPI, 7.7 points per 100 possessions better than that of an average team and nearly two points better than the NBA’s second-best offense, which belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs’ top-ranked defense is 6.8 points per 100 possessions better than that of an average defense and three points better than the Atlanta Hawks’ second-ranked defense.

The Spurs are tied for the NBA lead in the percentage of shots taken from 10 to 16 feet from the basket (14 percent, along with the New York Knicks). San Antonio leads the league with a 44 percent shooting percentage on shots from that range (NBA average is 41 percent). But the Warriors’ defense allows opponents to make 38 percent of their shots from that range, the fifth-best defensive field goal percentage in the NBA.

Which star is having the better season?

Everyone knows that Stephen Curry is having an amazing season. But does the world know just how good Kawhi Leonard is?

Cherry-picking numbers to prove a point is easy, but ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus -- a sophisticated metric that measures a player’s impact per 100 possessions, takes into account offense and defense and is pace-adjusted -- rates Leonard, and not Curry, as the NBA’s best player this season.

Leonard is plus-9.89 in Real Plus-Minus, best in the NBA. Curry is second, at plus-9.72.

Streaks on the line

The Spurs have won 43 consecutive home games and will look to tie the mid-90s Bulls for the second-longest home win streak in NBA history, behind the Warriors’ current 50-game mark.

The Warriors have lost 32 consecutive regular-season games in San Antonio since their last regular-season win Feb. 14, 1997 –- when Tim Duncan was still at Wake Forest. (The Warriors won a playoff game in San Antonio in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals.)