Regular season games in the NBA don’t get much grander than this.
When the Golden State Warriors meet the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center tonight, the contest will be overflowing with a wealth of storylines – from lofty, iconic records hanging in the balance to a sneak peek at tactics for what is shaping up to be a Western Conference finals preview.
For Golden State, the prestige of chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season beckons.
For San Antonio, they can become the first team in league history to finish undefeated at home for an entire regular season.
Something has to give. Though both teams have to seal their respective records with another win – the Warriors play Memphis in their season finale, while the Spurs host Oklahoma City in their final home game – it certainly feels like this match-up will decide it.
Yet, for all the historical stakes, there will be absolutely nothing tangible on the line for the here and now.
Golden State have already clinched the top seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs, while San Antonio are cemented right behind them as the two-seed. Neither team can gain anything of substance.
Because of the unique circumstances, there has been a lot of curiosity as to whether either or both sides will rest their key players in an attempt to keep them fresh for the postseason.
Thankfully, we’re likely to see both teams at close to full strength, so neither record is going to have any tinge of hollowness.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was on that Bulls squad which set the benchmark, said he’s inclined to rest his guys, but will discuss with the team. If you’ve been following the likes of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, you know they’re not taking this chance at history for granted, so don’t expect any let-up.
It was more likely that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the man who rested his starters on random nights during the regular season, would once again spoil the party by holding his guys out. Popovich, after all, doesn’t care for your viewing experience. He just wants to put his team – with no shortage of creaky veterans – in the best position to succeed when it matters.
So it comes somewhat as a surprise that he’s said he’ll play everyone against Golden State. San Antonio lost at Denver on Friday, a day after falling to the Warriors on the road, and Popovich chose that occasion to sit out Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Danny Green.
On the surface, it appears as if it just happened to work out like this, especially since Popovich called the home record “meaningless” and has consistently shown he doesn’t prioritise ancillary achievements.
But it’s hard to imagine Popovich not caring at all. After all, he’s someone who really respects the game. Even if the home record wasn’t there to be had, Popovich wouldn’t rest players and hand the Warriors a cakewalk to the all-time win mark, would he? Fortunately, we won’t find out.
There is something to be said for the worth of going 41-0 on your home floor, which can provide a significant mental advantage come playoff time.
There’s value in being seemingly invincible in your own building, but there’s more value in not having that mystique taken away, giving all the other teams hope and showing your mortality.
Even if it’s against a world-beating team like Golden State, if San Antonio show vulnerability at home, that will open the flood gates – mentally speaking – for everyone else.
Just look at how the Warriors’ recent streak of 54 straight home victories came to an end. Boston did what no other team was able to do in 430 days and after defeating Portland, Golden State’s new streak lasted all of one game as lowly Minnesota also showed Oracle Arena is no fortress.
While the final score is what everyone will focus on first and foremost, tonight’s game will also be the final chance to watch the teams square-off before a likely rematch in the playoffs.
As compelling as the match-up is as a stand-alone, it could be just the appetiser to a main course.
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