Spurs star Leonard will play in Golden State opener

Sunday, 14 May, 2017

Initial betting odds and predictions make this series seem like another cakewalk for the West's No.1 seed. After that, it was vintage Spurs in one of the biggest beatdowns ever for the thoroughly embarrassed Rockets, including a reputation-sullied James Harden. The dismantling of the Blazers was expected, but overwhelming the Jazz, the best defensive team in the National Basketball Association, (and making it look easy) was more impressive.

Thursday night was a rough one for NBA MVP candidate James Harden, who performed horribly in a playoff elimination loss then got doubly eviscerated on social media for hitting the nightclub scene later that evening. He closed the first half with as many points as turnovers (five), and his two shot attempts at the intermission were fewer than 15 of the 16 players who participated in the half. On offense, the team must continue to play within themselves and their system, as they did against Houston, controlling the tempo and forcing the fast-paced Rockets into four games of under 100 points.

Doing the same thing against Golden State, however, is another challenge entirely. The series should be very competitive, but the Warriors pull it out and advance to the NBA Finals for their chance to get Kevin Durant his first ring. Spurs' lost superstar Kawhi Leonard to a sprained ankle (courtesy of Yahoo Sports) late, but held on to fend off the Rockets in overtime. "Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there". A source told ESPN's Michael C. Wright that Leonard could have played in Game 6 on Thursday night, but the Spurs decided they'd rather have him healthy for Sunday. FILE - In this January 10, 2017, file photo, Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) reacts after a foul called against him during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, in Oakland, . Kawhi Leonard has made his case as the NBA's best two-way player this season.

Patty Mills chipped in 14 points and seven assists for San Antonio while Pau Gasol added 10 points and 11 boards. Harden, who will likely win this year's MVP award if Russell Westbrook doesn't, had nearly as many turnovers (six) as assists (seven), and he looked passive and disinterested. The rest of the team grouped together and put on an impressive defensive display, which led to a 114-75 thumping of the Rockets.

Game 6 against the Rockets could be used as exhibit A in trying to prove that Popovich is the best to ever do it.

This is the first postseason meeting between the teams since 2013, when the Spurs ousted the Warriors in six games in the conference semifinals.

How could Harden be so bad after carrying his team all season, scoring 29.1 points and leading the league with 11.2 assists per game during the regular season? And we saw just how ineffective an isolation-based offense could be in the last series, where the Utah Jazz went minutes without a clean look against the Warriors defense. Brown spent part of last season working unofficially alongside Popovich and is now coaching Golden State in place of the ailing Kerr, who attended practice Saturday for the first time in more than three weeks as he recovers from his latest procedure to fix a spinal fluid leak that left him dealing with debilitating symptoms. Will the Warriors miss the presence of coach Steve Kerr, who is out with myriad health issues? The Spurs turned LaMarcus Aldridge loose down low, and he pounded the Rockets for 34 points while taking advantage of continual mismatches. "Demanded the ball, got in good position. he was wonderful on the boards and of course he passes it really, really well and gets it moving for us".

The Warriors are 8-0 this post-season and are looking to return to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.