OAKLAND, California (AP) " San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has launched into the mind games ahead of its Western Conference finals series against the Golden State Warriors.
So, what will he do to prepare his defense to stop the high-flying Warriors?
"Pray," Popovich quipped Saturday before the Spurs departed Texas for the Bay Area.
Stephen Curry could only chuckle at that one.
"Gamesmanship," Golden State's Curry said, "I love it."
Popovich doesn't have his old coaching pals Mike Brown or Steve Kerr fooled. 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 repair a spinal fluid leak that left him dealing with debilitating symptoms.
"That's Pop," Brown said with a laugh. "He's doing a lot more than praying right now. He knows what he wants to do against us."
As dominant as the Warriors have been sweeping through the first two rounds of the playoffs, praying might not hurt either.
Kevin Durant doesn't care who is on the court for San Antonio, he knows that Popovich will have his group ready complete with a few surprises in the playbook.
Tony Parker is out the rest of the way with a leg injury. Kawhi Leonard is not at 100 percent because of a tender ankle. Tim Duncan is long ago retired.
"They're a machine," Durant said. "They just keep going at you, no matter who's on the court. They run their system. Similar to us, I feel like, where a guy goes down, somebody steps in."
San Antonio thoroughly dismantled James Harden and Houston 114-75 in Game 6 on Thursday night behind LaMarcus Aldridge's 34 points and 12 rebounds to close out the series as All-Star Leonard sat out nursing an injured left ankle he hurt in a Game 5 overtime win.
Golden State has barely been tested so far this postseason, going 8-0 against Portland and Utah.
Sure, it was nearly seven months ago when the Spurs came to town and thoroughly spoiled Durant's much-hyped debut " a 129-100 whipping in the season opener " with the Warriors after his scrutinized departure from Oklahoma City.
"That seems like years ago to be honest," KD said. "Both teams have gotten so much better."
The Spurs are back in the Western Conference finals for the first time since winning the 2014 title.
Associated Press Writer Raul Dominguez contributed from San Antonio.
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