The San Antonio Spurs will begin their 2016-17 campaign on the road in California where they take on their conference rivals the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
San Antonio begins their season without Tim Duncan for the first time in 19 years, and loads of new comers on their roster.
For Golden State, the Kevin Durant era tips off Tuesday night. Before he landed with the Warriors, San Antonio was one of a handful of teams that had the chance to sit-down with the slender lanky sharp-shooter.
After signing a two-year, $54.3 million deal to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Durant is expected to take his place alongside holdover Warriors standouts Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the nightcap of TNT’s opening-night doubleheader.
In its quest to unseat Golden State as the two-time Western Conference champs, San Antonio will go forward with Pau Gasol, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The last four times San Antonio played Golden State without their star big man, Duncan, they won two of them.
Many say the Spurs settled for Gasol. Say what you will, he is primed to join a talented group himself. San Antonio returns Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Aldridge and Leonard from a team
Oct 19, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) smiles against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second quarter at Valley View Casino Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
that won 67 games last season.
“I wouldn’t think of ourselves as the guinea pig,” Gasol said Monday when asked if the Spurs saw themselves as a test experiment for Golden State’s new concoction. “We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It’s going to be an interesting, challenging first game.”
The Warriors can agree with Gasol’s statement on having an incredible team.
Even after winning the season series 3-1 last season, Golden State has prevailed just six times in its past 30 regular-season meetings with the Spurs.
Durant’s 25.8-point career scoring average against the Spurs is lower than his mark of all teams except the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Warriors added more to their record-breaking, 73-win team than adding Durant. Former Spur David West has also joined Curry.
In his lone season with the Spurs, West contributed only a career-worst average of 4.0 rebounds and his lowest scoring output in 10 years (7.1 points per game).
The Warriors outscored opponents by 41.1 points per 100 possessions with Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Green and Andre Iguodala on the court last season.
In nine minutes against the Spurs, that unit shot 64.3 percent from the field and scored at a clip that equates to 117.3 points per game.
Now that coach Steve Kerr has replaced Barnes with Durant, this five-man squadron stands as perhaps the most frightening in the history of the NBA.
How will Gregg Popovich counteract this revamped lineup?
San Antonio will be without defensive juggernaut in Danny Green whom is nursing a sore quad.
With Green sidelined the Spurs’ defense becomes something of a question mark.
Even with Green on the court the Spurs were going to struggle to stop the Warriors. Without Green, the difficulty of doing so increases twofold.
“He’s probably more important to us defensively against a team like that than he is offensively,” Popovich said. “He is going to make shots 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 (to face the Warriors without him).”
Popovich will have to rely more on reserves Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson, neither of whom are on Green’s level as a defender.
Defending the Warriors last season required precise switching, minimal wasted movement and flawless execution.
The x-factor is Anderson, the successor to Boris Diaw. His positional versatility and point-forward ability would be invaluable against a team that throws traditional roles into the fire.