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Give and Go: NBA midseason grades
7:11 | NBA
Give and Go: NBA midseason grades
Thursday January 21st, 2016

After suffering two losses over a three-game span, the reigning champion Golden State Warriors bounced back by pummeling the Cavaliers and Bulls in back-to-back affairs.

The Dubs still boast the NBA’s best record at 39-4, but the San Antonio Spurs are nipping at their heels with a 36-6 mark. Those two Western Conference juggernauts are in a different stratosphere right now, and they’re set to face off Monday for the first time this season.

In preparation of the looming showdown, this week’s Data Dimes will compare and contrast the top teams in the league. With the aid of interactive visualizations from PointAfter, let’s break down the Spurs and Warriors

• MORE NBA: Midseason grades for all 30 teams | SI.com's All-Star starters

Note: All stats referenced in this article are accurate as of Jan. 20, prior to games played.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network.

More from PointAfter: The Best NBA Players by Country | The Most Lopsided Super Bowls Ever | Data Dimes: The Best and Worst NBA Offseason Signings

+14.2 Point Differential

San Antonio flat out bullies its opponents. The Spurs beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 25 points to open the month of December. On Jan. 6, they cruised past the Utah Jazz by the same margin. In their most recent effort, the Spurs blew out the Dallas Mavericks by 29 points.

Thanks to those recurring lopsided wins, the Spurs’ average point differential of +14.2 points per game sits as the No. 1 mark in the league—significantly ahead of the top-seeded Warriors.

Spurs and Warriors in a League of Their Own | PointAfter

It would be unfair to discount the Oklahoma City Thunder—who are hovering under the radar in third place on the list. However, the Spurs and Warriors remain a cut above the rest until proven otherwise. Ranking first and second compared to peers during the same year is noteworthy. It’s much more significant to accomplish something on a historical scale with all teams in the running.

The Best Per-Game Point Differentials of All Time | PointAfter

That’s precisely what the Spurs are doing right now, as their point differential would be the best per-game average ever. This year’s Warriors squad sits in fifth, with three teams sandwiched in between them and San Antonio. All three of those teams—1971-72 Lakers, 1970-71 Bucks and 1995-96 Bulls—won the NBA championship. Both rosters are accomplishing historical feats in 2015-16, but only one can win the title at season’s end (assuming one of the two juggernauts gets it done).

89.6 and 102.6 Opponent Points Per Game

Warriors vs. Spurs: Points Allowed Per Game | PointAfter

While the Spurs and Warriors share nearly identical records, there are still key distinctions with regard to how each operates. San Antonio allows only 89.6 points per game—lowest in the league. Golden State, meanwhile, surrenders more than 102 points per contest, which ranks No. 18. Those numbers would suggest that the Spurs are an elite defensive team, while the Dubs are merely middle-of-the-pack. However, those figures fail to account for the pace at which each team plays.

The NBA's Top 10 Teams by Defensive Rating | PointAfter

When pace is added into the equation, the result is defensive rating—in other words, the points a team allows per 100 possessions rather than per game. By that measure, the West’s elite appear much more evenly matched.

Granted, the Spurs are still kings on the defensive end of the court. But the Warriors jump from No. 18 (where they sit in raw points allowed per game) to No. 5 by defensive rating. That’s due to the fact that G-State plays at the second-fastest pace in the entire league behind the Sacramento Kings. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Co. love to push the tempo as well as take shots early in the shot clock.

In the clip above, Curry utilizes his mortar range from beyond the arc, pulling up from the Pistons midcourt logo. The ball leaves his hand with 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock, resulting in a splash—and three points.

Of course, the reigning MVP is truly the only player in the game with that luxury. He takes those shots because he’s put in countless hours of practice perfecting his shooting stroke. The Spurs, on the other hand, desire a more methodical, calculated rhythm.

Gregg Popovich’s crew, by contrast, ranks No. 25 in the league in terms of pace. Only the Raptors, Grizzlies, Cavaliers, Heat and Jazz play fewer possessions per game.

When the Spurs are in their element, they’re rattling off possessions like the one above. A multitude of passes forces the defense off-balance, eventually resulting in an open, high-percentage shot attempt (in this case, a David West dunk on a final give-and-go).

Again, both of these teams are elite, but their identities out on the basketball court differ quite a bit. On Monday, fans will finally get to see the 2015-16 versions go toe-to-toe.

50-40-90?

Team play from the Warriors and Spurs has created two of the most compelling storylines within the sport. Still, individual accomplishments are important to address as well. With the NBA All-Star game less than a month away, and the halfway point of the 2015-16 season in the rearview mirror, both Curry and Kawhi Leonard are still in the ballpark to join the exclusive 50-40-90 club.

Team MVPs at the Top of Their Game | PointAfter

Curry is already pacing to join the likes of Steve Nash, Larry Bird and others, while Leonard needs to buckle down at the free throw line (though he’s been outstanding from beyond the arc). There’s a plethora of reasons why the Spurs and Warriors are about to duel for the distinction of NBA’s best team (at least temporarily). The alpha dogs of each roster are bonafide superstars.

Basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley considers Leonard the best basketball player in the world, with the caveat that Curry is the best offensive player in the NBA. You don’t have to agree with Chuck’s designation, but it speaks to how well positioned these two franchises are in terms of sustaining a winning culture well into the future. With the two best teams—and, arguably, players—on the planet set to do battle, the NBA community is in for a real treat come Monday.

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