Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts after scoring in the first half on February 28 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo
Last year's Western Conference finalists go head-to-head in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this season when the injury-handcuffed San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors meet in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Saturday afternoon.
The Spurs will be seeking their sixth championship in 20 years without star forward Kawhi Leonard, who has missed all but nine games this year with tendinopathy in his right quad.
Meanwhile, standout point guard Stephen Curry will be a spectator due to a sprained left MCL when the Warriors begin their quest for a third championship in four years.
Both perennial All-Stars are presumed out for the entire series, although no formal announcement has been made.
Curry is scheduled for a re-examination of his injured knee Saturday on the three-week anniversary of having suffered the injury. The Warriors hope to get him back at some point during the postseason, presuming either that the news is better than expected Saturday or they can survive the first round without him.
Curry averaged 31.5 points when the Warriors swept the Spurs 4-0 in the Western Finals last May en route to the championship. Leonard got injured in the first game of the series.
Neither team has demonstrated championship form this season.
The Spurs had an 18-year run of 50-win seasons snapped when they went 47-35, good for just the seventh seed in the West.
They enter the postseason having lost five of their last nine, including 122-98 at New Orleans on Wednesday night in the regular-season finale, which dropped them into the seventh position and a matchup with Golden State right off the bat.
That means nothing, Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili claimed, when all 16 playoff teams start 0-0 in the playoffs.
"We have got to play above where we have been playing. We really have to improve in many ways," he noted. "Hopefully, we do that and we raise our game to the next level."
The Spurs still feature two of the greatest winners the league has ever seen in Ginobili and Tony Parker, who have teamed for 131 playoff wins, equaling the most of any tandem in NBA history.
What the Warriors lack in playoff-win quantity they make up for in quality. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were all key players in last year's record-tying 16-1 stampede to the title.
Like the Spurs, the Warriors struggled down the stretch, losing 10 of their last 17 to finish seven games behind Houston for the best record in the West.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played for San Antonio's Gregg Popovich during the Spurs' ongoing championship era, sounded like his mentor when he labeled much of what happened in March and earlier this month as "meaningless."
"This has been such a chaotic month with all the injuries and meaningless games," Kerr insisted. "We've been frustrated we haven't performed very well. But the good news is we have performed well for four years. We know who we are and what we're about."
The Warriors took the season series 3-1 from the Spurs this year, winning both games in Oakland.