SAN ANTONIO -- Just 17 teams in NBA history have captured at least 65 wins in a single regular season.
So when the San Antonio Spurs (58-10) host the Golden State Warriors (62-6) on Saturday at the AT&T Center (8:30 p.m. ET on ABC/WatchESPN), we could very well be watching the next two teams set to join that prestigious list, while potentially climbing into more rarified air as 70-win squads, which would mark the first time in NBA history two teams reached that peak in the same season.
Interestingly enough, the last time Golden State defeated the Spurs in San Antonio, Tim Duncan was a senior at Wake Forest, and the lineups featured players such as B.J. Armstrong, Avery Johnson, Chris Mullin, Latrell Sprewell, Monty Williams and Dominique Wilkins, who came off the bench to lead the home team in scoring in the 1997 Valentine's Day clash.
Golden State's regular-season streak of futility in San Antonio ranks as the longest active road losing streak against a single opponent and the second-longest streak of all time, according to Elias research.
ESPN NBA reporters Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Michael C. Wright discuss the matchup and the very real possibility of Golden State sitting some players with the Warriors entering this game coming off a Friday night outing at Dallas:
Wright: What we're witnessing right now between the Warriors and Spurs is unprecedented, but looking at the schedule, San Antonio needs to win 12 of its final 14 games to reach 70 victories on the season. So from this vantage point, the Warriors have a better chance of getting to 70 wins than the Spurs. Can the Warriors do it, and what would be their biggest obstacle to making it happen?
Strauss: To answer the first question, the Warriors are almost guaranteed to win 70 games. They'd only need to finish 9-6 down the stretch and they have nine home games remaining. The far tougher task is getting to 73 -- made all the more difficult by two games in San Antonio, each on the second night of a back-to-back. The big obstacle of getting to 73 wins is Andre Iguodala's injury, and we'll get into that later.
Now, I know from a fan perspective (and hey, from an ESPN employee perspective), I'd like to see the Warriors play everyone on Saturday. I just don't think that's in Golden State's interest. What do you think, though? Is this a game the Warriors should cede?
Wright: Man, this is something we were just discussing in the media work room at the AT&T Center, and my thinking is this: Why give San Antonio any ammunition for a potential rematch in the Western Conference Finals? Like you, I want to see both teams do absolutely everything possible to win this game. But at the same time, both teams can't lose sight of the big picture, especially with them set to play twice more after this one.
So yes, this is definitely a game the Warriors should cede. The last time these teams played, the Spurs didn't have Duncan, and LaMarcus Aldridge was still trying to figure out how to mesh with all his new teammates.
So on some level, I think it's important for Golden State to try to gain some type of feel for this new Spurs team that is starting to peak. But the Warriors shouldn't do it at the expense of anyone's health with the postseason approaching, and they definitely don't need to expose too much schematically.
Maybe this is a stupid question, but it's baffling to me how much criticism Stephen Curry receives from some of the former NBA players. In your estimation, what's the prevailing reason for all the criticism, and more importantly, how does Curry deal with it?
Strauss: I'm not sure if Curry receives more criticism than other great players, or if this is just the age we live in. Thanks to social media, we're inundated with all matter of controversy and frankly, we're collectively addicted to reveling in it. That said, Curry has seemed to strike a nerve among some older players, perhaps in part due to his size. It might be difficult for former greats to fathom how a normal-looking person is revolutionizing the game.
Curry has touched on the matter, and seems moderately annoyed by the criticism. He goes out of his away to avoid criticizing specific players, so it must seem strange and arbitrary to be on the receiving end.
As for the Spurs, how's Kawhi Leonard managing an expansion of his role? Is his defense holding up?
Wright: Ethan, he's handling it shockingly well. When all of us started writing all these huge feature stories on Leonard, I kept waiting for the other foot to drop because everything seemed to be happening so fast. But the thing about it is Leonard has worked diligently his entire career to get to this point, and he's still incredibly hungry.
What's most impressive about Leonard's ascension is his humility throughout it all, and the fact he has expanded his role off the court, too. As you know, Leonard is a man of few words. But strangely enough, when the media is standing around in the locker room waiting for players to interview, Leonard is typically now one of the first to volunteer, knowing that due to his expanded role, he's expected to serve as a spokesman for the team.
Defensively, nothing has changed as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich continues to deploy Leonard to neutralize the opponent's most dangerous threat. And Leonard remains wildly successful. He blocked three shots in Thursday night's win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting for his 50th consecutive home game scoring in double figures, which registers as the longest streak by a Spur since Duncan's 68-game tear from 2004-06.
Speaking of Finals MVPs, Iguodala isn't expected to play when these teams meet, and I remember Steve Kerr saying "it's a really big deal" that he's out. How much does Iguodala mean to the Warriors, and what do they miss with him out of the lineup?
Strauss: Kerr is right about Iguodala, which is why I'm thinking Golden State should Popovich-punt this upcoming game on Saturday (as in, rest the star players for the sake of recovery). Remember, the game's on the second end of a back-to-back. Sans the Finals MVP, the Warriors' bench is depleted, and likely won't hold up against San Antonio's stacked reserves. As great as Golden State has been, victory is unlikely here.