If there’s one team in the Western Conference capable of giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money, it’s probably the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio sits atop the Southwest Division and No. 2 in the West at 34-6, 2.5 games back of the conference-leading Warriors. San Antonio, like Golden State, has proven to be a dominant force in their division and look like a lock to go deep into the postseason. The Spurs rank No. 6 in scoring (103.8 points) and No. 1 in scoring defense (89.7), giving them an NBA-leading differential of 14.1 points per game. It's little surprise, as well, the Spurs own the highest field-goal percentage in basketball (49.2) and hold opponents to the third-worst (42.7).
The Gregg Popovich business model of playing team-friendly, efficient basketball is transcendent beyond his best five players and executed up and down the lineup each night, regardless of who’s on the floor. San Antonio’s depth is well-distributed—11 players get at least 12 minutes of floor time. A deep rotation has led to chemistry, as the Spurs rank No. 2 in the NBA with 25.5 assists per game.
Popovich's squad is also building off their early season successes. The Spurs have won nine games in a row, with six at home. San Antonio is now 22-0 at AT&T Center, having last lost a regular season game at home on March 12 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who the Spurs host on Thursday night. San Antonio has scored over 100 points in all nine games and given up under 100 points in eight of nine, although four of the last five opponents have reached 98.
Where San Antonio is putting things in historical perspective is on the opposite side of the floor than Golden State. The Spurs’ defensive rating (per 100 possessions) is 95.95, nearly five points below the Indiana Pacers, who occupy the next best spot at 100.93. The league average is around 105.7, putting the Spurs close to an entire 10 points above the middle of the pack. If that gap is sustained through the rest of the season, the 2015-2016 Spurs will have the best defense in relation to league average in NBA history. Better than the 2003-2004 Spurs, the early 90's New York Knicks, the late 80's Detroit Pistons or the Boston Celtics in 2007-2008.
That combination of offense and defense is a level of competition the Warriors aren’t seeing from their opponents this season and to say the Warriors are leaps and bounds ahead of the Spurs would be a severe understatement. The Spurs now keeping pace with the Warriors (36-3), who on Wednesday experienced their second loss with Steph Curry on the court. The two teams have yet to play this season but have four meetings lined up, beginning with Jan. 25 at Golden State.
Much attention will be on the Spurs defending their streak against the Cavs on Thursday. The Warriors showed some vulnerability with their loss on Wednesday, and Curry and Co. may be looking over their shoulders with the way the Spurs are playing.