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Beard: Warriors, Spurs control path to NBA Finals in the West

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The NBA regular season is reaching its home stretch, with most teams having about 20 games remaining.

While the playoff race in the Eastern Conference reasonably includes about 11 or 12 teams, the scene in the West probably only has nine or 10 teams that are within a reasonable realm of making the postseason.

In both cases, the top two seeds seem to be set: the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors likely will earn those spots in the East, while the West almost assuredly will be the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs atop the standings.

How the West will be won is going through either Golden State or San Antonio — or both, if a surprise team, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers, is going to make it the NBA Finals.

News: The Warriors have 55 wins and are chasing the all-time wins record.

Views: They’ve stomped through the NBA this season like Godzilla, with a better road record (29-6) than most teams’ home marks. They’re lighting up the scoreboard at 115 points per game and have the most exciting player in the league in Steph Curry, along with the most versatile in Draymond Green.

They haven’t taken a step back after last season’s championship success, wearing the target on their backs all this season — and improving on the performance they had a year ago. Curry and Green have said that chasing the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in 1995-96 isn’t on their minds on a day-to-day basis, but it’ll be interesting to see how the scrutiny intensifies as they inch closer to it the next few weeks.

The key that Green pointed to during All-Star weekend was that no one remembers a team like the 2007 New England Patriots, who went through a perfect regular season and didn’t win the Super Bowl. The goal for the Warriors is not just to replicate history in one aspect without completing the task of winning the title with it.

Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was a rare misstep, but the Warriors have their eyes on the prize: back-to-back NBA titles.

News: The Spurs are 53-9 and are chasing with the Warriors for the top seed.

Views: It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Golden State will have everything sewn up. The Spurs have been in the weeds all season, as all the attention has gone in other directions — and are just 21/2 games behind for the top seed.

If not for the Warriors’ remarkable start, most of the talk would be about how the Spurs have managed to already have begun their transition from the old-school Big Three in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the new-school version, featuring Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Spurs sport the best home record in the league (30-0) and have an eight-game win streak. They emerged from their annual “Rodeo Road Trip” with only one loss in eight games and trounced the Pistons last week. Ginobili, 38, who was out for a month following testicular surgery, had 23 points in 15 minutes Saturday night’s win over the Sacramento Kings.

While the Warriors can play a fast-paced, high-caliber offense, the Spurs can slow it down and rely on the veteran guard and the new to carry them.

News: Among the contenders in the West, the Thunder are reeling and the Clippers are surging.

Views: Oklahoma City has lost five of eight, including a pair of heart-wrenching losses to the Warriors and one each to the Clippers and Cavaliers. The Thunder’s psyche is wounded and they’ll need to bounce back quickly down the stretch. There aren’t any apparent dents between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but they’re going to have to find a third scorer and get some production from the bench.

The Clippers have won four of six and have steadied the ship without Blake Griffin, with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan picking up the slack.

The Thunder and Clippers look to be locked into the third and fourth seeds, unless the Grizzlies can make a late run. Aside from those four teams, though, there doesn’t appear to be another viable contender in the West.