Spurs send message to Warriors

Mar 22, 2016 3:06 AM

Roughly three weeks remain in the NBA’s regular season and there is still a lot to be decided.

With Golden State and San Antonio playing two more times and dreams of 72-plus wins still dangling out there for the Warriors, that’s obviously going to be the biggest story in pro basketball.

Warriors and Spurs. Spurs and Warriors. In a season where few others are being given a realistic chance to emerge as champions, they’re going to remain linked. Coming off Saturday night’s 87-79 win in San Antonio, the defending champs finally looked vulnerable in a season where they’ve looked unbeatable. The first meeting in Oakland resulted a 30-point GSW win where Stephen Curry dominated resoundingly despite working against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.

On Saturday, Curry was held to 4-for-18 shooting and made just one of his 12 3-pointers. The teams won’t play again until April 7 in the Bay area before crossing paths three nights later in South Texas.

This week, the Warriors close out a three-game road trip in Minnesota before returning home to play the Clippers, opening a stretch where they’ll be home for eight of the next nine games. In addition to their run at 73 wins, the Warriors are looking to remain perfect at Oracle Arena for an entire season.

Although games against the 76ers and Timberwolves look like gimmes, contests against L.A., Dallas, Washington, Boston, Portland and the aforementioned Spurs are going to provide major challenges. Golden State enters the week 32-0 at home this season, having won an NBA record 50 straight.

Oklahoma City is likely to cruise into the No. 3 spot, while the Clippers should hold off the ailing Grizzlies for No. 4. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Memphis is able to claim the fifth seed in spite of all their injuries.

Mike Conley remains out until at least April due to Achilles tendinitis and is currently still in a walking boot, so the Griz will have to hang on behind Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Vince Carter, veterans who have experience winning at this time of the season but are likely to have to work more minutes than they would’ve if the group was healthy.

Lance Stephenson has played a major role in softening Conley’s loss, but every game Memphis plays from here on out is likely to be a struggle.

Dallas, Houston, Portland and Utah are hovering around .500, but unless one of them gets on a hot streak, appear unlikely to pass the Grizzlies for the No. 5 spot. As a result, you’ll see that No. 6 spot highly coveted in spite of the date with the Thunder that it brings, because no one wants to see the Spurs or Warriors in a first-round series.

One of those four teams will miss the playoffs altogether, which would yield major disappointment since all were playoff teams last season. Only the Trail Blazers, having lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and Wes Matthews via free agency, didn’t harbor postseason aspirations entering the season, which means these next few weeks are going to be vital to avoid a major setback.

The East doesn’t have as much drama, but will apparently have a race for the No. 1 seed in store. Cleveland, despite its chemistry issues and coaching struggles, have essentially owned the best record in the conference for months, but lost Saturday in Miami and are now just one game up on the Raptors entering the week.

The Cavs and Raptors have completed their regular-season games against one another. Toronto won the most recent meeting on Feb. 26 and owns a head-to-head tiebreaker via a 2-1 series edge in case the teams end up tied.

From 3-6, Boston, Atlanta, Miami and Charlotte all enter this week within one game of one another. In the race to simply make the postseason, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit and Washington are all in the hunt for a spot, but only two will make it.

The East is so wide open that every team who makes the top eight will feel they have a reasonable chance to reach the Finals. With the NCAA Tournament pared down to the Sweet 16, the NBA is about to take center stage. Fortunately, there are multiple story lines worthy of our attention that should make for a fun next few weeks.

Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He's also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected].