Keys to Watch in San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors Series – NBA Western Conference Finals Preview

NEW YORK, USA - DECEMBER 22: Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors in action during NBA game between Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics at Barclays Center in New York City, United States on December 22, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Keys to Watch in San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors Series – NBA Western Conference Finals Preview

The well-rested Golden State Warriors finally can play basketball again Sunday against the injury-depleted San Antonio Warriors. The Spurs beat the Houston Rockets handily by 39 points in game 6 of that series, but played without star point guard Tony Parker (out for the playoffs) and star forward Kawhi Leonard with an ankle injury suffered in game five.

While the Warriors have split the last 10 games with the Spurs, the first seven games did not include Kevin Durant and the last game played against the Warriors, the Spurs lost. The Warriors appear to be clicking on all cylinders so far in the playoffs. The Spurs did not dominate every game against the Rockets and have the additional injury concerns.

Four Keys to the Series:

There will be four keys to the series. First, will the Spurs’ injuries affect the series?

Will the Spurs’ Injuries Affect the Series?

Leonard appeared to suffer a bad ankle injury in game five of the Rockets’ series that could linger or be re-injured. A fully healthy Leonard makes a significant difference.

Second, Tony Parker is out for the remainder of the playoffs. Patty Mills has been a good replacement so far, but it is hard to underestimate the importance of Parker’s contributions. While Parker’s “Impact Percentage” according to ESPN Magazine has declined from over 60% in the 2013-14 season, it was still about 48% this season. As great as Leonard is on the court, he was still only 45%. Thus, while Parker is in the twilight of his career (possibly done), he was still a major part of the Spurs success.

Can the Spurs Take Advantage of Their Size Advantage?

Realistically, the Spurs only chance is to successfully pound the ball on the inside. While the Spurs could slow the game down in the Rockets series and succeed in the paint, the Warriors simply have better shooters and more weapons. When Klay Thompson is hitting his shots, contesting them is virtually pointless. Draymond Green plays bigger than his height suggests and allows the Warriors to succeed with smaller lineups than most teams.

LaMarcus Aldridge Must Dominate:

In game six of the Rockets series, LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and a plus-minus of 21. When Aldridge has scored 20 points or more in a playoff game, the Spurs have won. The play of Aldridge has had a direct relation to whether the Spurs wins or loses. Indeed, in the two games against the Warriors this year, he scored 26 points in a win and 17 points in a loss.
Gregg Popovich and Mike Brown Matchup:

Due to Steve Kerr’s recent back procedure, Mike Brown has taken over sideline coaching duties. Kerr appears to be back for pre-game preparation and strategy. However, the concern is if Gregg Popovich makes an in game adjustment that Brown is not ready for.

Kerr considers Popovich his mentor and Brown was the Cavalier coach for a time. It is likely that there is little drop-off for a star-led team like Golden State. However, Popovich could show a young protege a thing or two to expose Brown’s inexperience in the playoffs.

Prediction – Warriors Win in Six Games:

While the Spurs have the coach, the defense and the depth to give the Warriors a tough series, the Warriors will win the series in six games. The Warriors have too much firepower to be stopped. In addition, even if Curry and Thompson are stopped from scoring, the Warriors have Durant. It is going to be a great series with great play and coaching.

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