Stephen Curry Kawhi Leonard
Stephen Curry, pictured driving between Dewayne Dedmon and Kawhi Leonard at AT&T Center in San Antonio on March 29, 2017, will lead the Golden State Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Reuters/Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating the Houston Rockets in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs are rewarded with a series against the odds-on favorites to win the 2017 NBA Finals. They’ll meet the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, hoping to pull off one of the league’s biggest upsets in recent years.

Do the Spurs have any chance to upset the Warriors? Initial betting odds and predictions make this series seem like another cakewalk for the West’s No.1 seed.

Golden State opened with -1600 betting odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook Thursday night, and San Antonio was named a +900 underdog. The Spurs’ odds are down to +700 (Warriors -1200) at, but few unbiased observers are actually picking San Antonio to defeat the Warriors four times.

There’s no question that the Warriors are the best team in basketball. That’s what happens when you add Kevin Durant, who is the NBA’s top player not named LeBron James, to a team that set a record with 73 regular-season wins. Golden State led the league with a 67-15 record, finishing first in offense and second in defensive efficiency, even as Durant missed a quarter of the season with an injury.

The Warriors have been dominant in the playoffs, sweeping both the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz. The team had a few hiccups during the regular season, but they appear to be firing on all cylinders with 23 wins in 24 games.

On paper, Golden State looks to be virtually unbeatable. Four of their five starters are All-Stars, and Stephen Curry has won the last two MVP awards. Draymond Green might win the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award, and Klay Thompson’s abilities as a shooter and defender make him one of the league’s 20 best players.

San Antonio has one All-Star on their roster, and they’ll need him to be the best player in this series. Kawhi Leonard has a chance to do just that, having emerged as one of the NBA’s elite superstars in the 2016-2017 season, though his health remains a question mark heading into the conference finals.

An ankle injury forced Leonard to miss overtime of Game 5 and all of Game 6 against the Rockets. ESPN reported that the small forward could have played Thursday night, but the team held him out to get him ready for the next series. When Leonard takes the court Sunday afternoon in Game 1, it will be after nearly five days of rest.

It can be argued where exactly Leonard ranks among the NBA’s top players. He’s certainly in the top 10, and his improvement on the offensive end this season probably put him among the league’s top five players. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich has stated that Leonard is the NBA’s best player because of his prowess on the defensive end, and he’s been recognized as the league’s No.1 defender in consecutive years.

Leonard will likely finish third in voting for the 2017 MVP award. In the playoffs, he’s averaging 27.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 17.2 shots per game.

With Popovich on the bench, the Spurs have proven that they don’t need a superstar in order to be successful. While LeBron James is working on becoming the greatest NBA player in history this postseason, Popovich is building a resume that could belong to the best coach the league has ever seen.

Game 6 against the Rockets could be used as exhibit A in trying to prove that Popovich is the best to ever do it. Without Leonard or Tony Parker, who is done for the year with a leg injury, the Spurs walked into Houston and punched their ticket to the conference finals with a 39-point victory over a 55-win team. MVP candidate James Harden was held to 10 points on 11 shots, and a Houston team that never failed to score less than 93 points in the regular season couldn’t get past 75 points.

Houston’s two lowest scoring games of the year came against San Antonio, which is the only team that finished the regular season with a better defense than Golden State. The Spurs allowed just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, surrendering 98.1 points per game.

The Spurs are too well-coached and too good defensively in order to be swept like Golden State’s previous opponents. Steve Kerr might not return to the bench for the rest of the postseason, and Popovich gives the Spurs an advantage over Mike Brown, who’s stepped up in Kerr’s absence. If LaMarcus Aldridge can maintain the flashes of brilliance that he occasionally shows for a sustained period of time, San Antonio might even push the Warriors to the brink of elimination.

Anything more than that, however, appears to be unlikely.

Unless the Warriors suffer a major injury, the only thing that’s going to stop them in 2017 is a historic performance by the league’s best player. Leonard isn’t capable of doing what James did a year ago, and the Spurs will be Golden State's next victim.

The Western Conference Finals should be competitive, but the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals rematch is coming.

Series Prediction: Warriors in six