The Golden State Warriors are five wins away from setting an NBA record for most wins in a season.
As they have gotten closer to the record, they have created space between themselves and the San Antonio Spurs, who are now five games behind the Warriors for first place.
The Spurs, who are having a dominant season in their own right, have taken their foot off the gas pedal in recent days, as Gregg Popovich has been giving players days off to rest for the postseason. The Spurs have an 11-game lead for second place.
On Wednesday, Tony Parker said this will continue, taking some air out of perhaps the two most highly anticipated games left in the regular season: the final two matchups between the Spurs and Warriors, both in April. Parker, on a French radio station, said he thinks Popovich will rest key players for those two games (via ESPN’s Michael C. Wright).
“I think no one will play [against the Warriors]. To Pop, the most important thing is that the players are rested for the playoffs. As for first place, he does not care. For us, the end of the regular season is a good time to rest. That’s why we play hard throughout the season, trying to win the most games possible, to find ourselves in this situation of luxury. We are sure we will be the second seed and we can all rest before the playoffs.”
The Spurs, who set an NBA record for best home record to start a season at 38-0 Wednesday night, could possibly become the first team to go undefeated at home. When asked if Popovich cares about that potential record, Parker quipped, “Are you seriously asking me that? He doesn’t care at all.”
While Popovich surely wants to make sure his best players are all rested, especially given the age of some of the Spurs’ rotation players, this resting may come with an added bonus — the Spurs won’t show their hand against the Warriors.
The Spurs-Warriors games have been perhaps the most intriguing matchup this season — two heavyweights, with stacked rosters, playing at or near historical paces, duking it out. In any other season, these two teams would be clear-cut championship favourites. This season, one all-time great team won’t make it to the Finals.
By resting his players during what would normally be two important, measuring-stick games, Popovich is leaving the Warriors-Spurs matchup a mystery. He’s simulating the final two games, side-stepping any conclusions the NBA world can draw from the four-game regular-season series. Instead, there are only two, vastly different games to go by.
In their first game, the Warriors blew out the Spurs at home, winning by 30. It was a prototypical Warriors game — fast-paced, high-intensity, with Stephen Curry lighting up any Spur who tried to defend him. The Spurs were without Tim Duncan in that game.
In the second game, the Spurs made some pivotal adjustments to win in Spurs fashion. They grinded the game to a halt, threw switches and multiple defenders at Curry, and dominated the glass. It helped that Curry also had a rare off night, missing shots he normally makes, while the Warriors also played without Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala.
This leaves the matchup very inconclusive. Aside from a 1-1 split, neither team played at full health, and the two games were so dissimilar. Furthermore, with two talented rosters and mastermind coaches, future games will have adjustments — neither team will stick with the exact same game plan. After getting demolished in Game 1, Popovich switched the Spurs defensive scheme. After getting stifled in Game 2, Steve Kerr will surely have an adjustment to the adjustment.
By resting his players, Popovich won’t let anyone see those adjustments, at least not in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the Warriors will like go about their business, as they have indicated they’re chasing the 73-win record. If they want it, they can’t afford to rest their best players, even against the Spurs’ JV squad.
There’s no guarantee that any of this will matter. The Spurs or Warriors could both fail to reach the conference finals. But the NBA is ridiculously lopsided right now, and it seems as if both teams are destined to meet in the postseason.
If Popovich does rest his guys, there’s no telling how a seven-game series would play out, because Popovich is going to hide his hand the best he can.
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