Programming note: Spurs-Warriors coverage tips off at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territorial restrictions apply)
OAKLAND – Despite the predictable downplays and denials, it's always significant when two playoff-caliber NBA teams meet in the regular season, as the Warriors and Spurs do Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
It matters even though the Spurs, who won at Phoenix on Wednesday night, will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion), Tim Duncan (rest) and Manu Ginobili (rest).
For one, there is the all-important jockeying for post-season seeding. If homecourt advantage was meaningless, why does every team want it?
For two, there are the psychological ramifications. A regular-season win over a potential playoff opponent always makes a physical statement, especially when one team is a member of the established elite and the other is striving to get there.
While the Spurs (20-5) are historically proven, the Swiss-watch franchise of the NBA, the Warriors still have much to achieve to join the league's elite.
In that regard, this game means more to the Warriors than to the Spurs, to whom they lost the Western Conference semifinals in six games last May.
“It makes a difference,'' Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “But they still find ways to execute and hurt you.
“They've got a great coach – an all-time great coach – and a bunch of guys tht are going to be in the Hall of Fame. They know how to play. It's business as usual. They find ways to win ballgames, and they don't make mistakes. No matter who's in uniform or who's not in uniform, they're still the San Antonio Spurs.''
San Antonio's coach, the entertainingly irascible Gregg Popovich, is among those who downplay regular-season matchups. Having made the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons, Pop treats the regular season as a warmup, occasionally resting aging stars Duncan and Ginobili in anticipation of the postseason.
Popovich also makes generous use of his bench: Nine Spurs average at least 7 points a game, 11 average at least 12 minutes per game – and no one averages more than 31.
“Their style of play and their team, they have guys they can plug in and out of the lineup and still be really effective,'' swingman Andre Iguodala said.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Stephen Curry vs. Cory Joseph/Patty Mills. Though Joseph tends to start in the absence of Parker, Mills (the former Saint Mary's College star) often plays more minutes. Popovich leans on whichever point guard is more effective on a given night. Curry, on a roll of 11 consecutive games with at least 20 points, can bomb either.
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Klay Thompson vs. Marco Belinelli/Danny Green. Thompson gets the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard for the Warriors, while Belinelli (a former Warriors draft pick) and Green share time for the Spurs. All three specialize in 3-point shooting, with Belinelli's 53 percent behind the arc leading the league.
SERIES HISTORY: After four seasons in which they lost every game against the Spurs, the Warriors in 2012-13 split the four-game series. They've won the last two regular-season games in Oakland but only eight of the last 57 against San Antonio.
INJURY UPDATE: Centers Jermaine O'Neal (surgery, right wrist), Festus Ezeli (surgery, right knee) and Ognjen Kuzmic (surgery, right pinkie) are out indefinitely.
Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are out for the Spurs.