There are dangerous teams and then there are "very good" teams. The Golden State Warriors, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, are definitely in the latter category.
Seeded sixth in the NBA Western Conference playoffs, the Warriors advanced to the second round for the first time since 2007 by closing out the No. 3 Denver Nuggets last Thursday.
Golden State jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series before eliminating the Nuggets in six games. Don't count Popovich and the Spurs among those calling the Nuggets' ouster by the Warriors an upset.
Coached by Mark Jackson, the Warriors are definitely playing with an edge.
"I don't think that anybody should be surprised," Popovich said. "They've been doing a great job all year long. Mark Jackson has done a fantastic job putting it together. They're not a dangerous team. They're a very good basketball team. There's a difference between a dangerous team and a very good team. A dangerous team plays well once in a while.
"They're a very good team. They play good 'D'. They rebound. They've got great pace, great skill players, good role players, and Mark has given them a philosophy they've all bought into, and it's one heck of a squad. So they're in the second round for a reason."
Seeded No. 2 in the West, the Spurs play the Warriors in Game 1 of the conference semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the AT&T Center.
Game 2 on Wednesday is also set for 8:30 p.m. at the AT&T Center.
The series shifts to Oakland, Calif., for Games 3 and 4.
If necessary, Games 5 and 7 will be played in San Antonio.
Warriors coach Jackson: 'We're playing with house money'
The winner of the series advances to play the survivor of the Oklahoma City-Memphis series for the Western Conference title. OKC, which leads Memphis 1-0, beat San Antonio in last year's West finals.
Jackson laughed Sunday when he was asked if the Warriors are feeling any pressure heading into their opener against the seasoned Spurs.
"There's no pressure," he said. "We're playing with house money. This is fun. I showed the guys the board yesterday. You have OKC playing Memphis and the Spurs playing the Golden State Warriors? There's no question on our part. We're excited."
After knocking off Denver, the Warriors are brimming with confidence and eager to measure themselves against one of the league's most consistent teams.
"I humbly submit that we didn't do anything we didn't expect to do," Jackson said, referring to the first-round series against Denver. "We had great respect for the Denver Nuggets. We had great respect for their coaching. But we thought it was a great opportunity and a great matchup. Fortunately, we moved out of that and moved on.
"This is definitely a tougher task, but one that we're excited about. We want to stay true to who we are and the principles we've instilled here. We believe we'll be just fine."
The Spurs-Warriors series will feature two of the league's best point guards, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry.
Tony Parker has won three championships with the Spurs and fuels the team's engine with his floor leadership and uncanny ability to break down defenses with his moves to the basket.
Parker's tough defense often overlooked
Parker will have his hands full against Curry, who set an NBA single-season record for 3-pointers this year with 272. Curry, who scored a career-high 54 points against the New York Knicks this season, averaged 24.3 points in the first round.
"He might be the best shooter in the league, so that tells the whole deal right there," Popovich said.
Popovich was succinct when he was asked how you guard such a dynamic player as Curry.
"You do the best job you can," Popovich said.
While not the shooter Curry is, Parker has had one of the best seasons of his career with the Spurs. His defense is often overlooked as one of the strengths of his overall game.
"He's gotten better every season," Popovich said. "It's one of the reasons why he's been an All-Star, because he plays on both ends of the floor."
Parker will be among the Spurs' perimeter players trying to slow down Curry.
"You just try to do the best job you can," Parker said. "Try to contain him. Obviously, he's going to score and he's going to make threes, but you have to make sure to make it difficult and try to get him tired. He's playing great right now. Our defense has to be ready. It's got to be a total team effort."
Spurs and Nuggest split regular-season series 2-2
At this stage of the game, Popovich said, there are few surprises after the ball goes up at tipoff time.
"We'll try to do what we do, and they'll try to do what they do," Popovich said. "We'll just see how it goes. It's a tough team to guard. Mark has done a great job with them. They execute the heck out of their plays.
"They've got a lot of confidence. They also play good 'D". Nobody gives them credit for that, but it's a heck of a defensive team. That's why they're in the second round."
The Spurs' defense, especially their transition defense, will be tested severely by the run-and-gun Warriors.
"Transition defense is always a priority," Popovich said. "In the NBA, everybody has got good athletes and everybody tries to keep a good pace. Transition defense is the first stage of the defense you play every night, so it's always important."
"It'll have to be good because they're a good 3-point shooting team. That's one of their strengths and we'll have to be ready for that."
The Spurs and Nuggets split their regular-season series 2-2, with neither team winning on the road. The Nuggets haven't won in San Antonio since 1997, a few months before the Spurs selected forward Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
Injured Splitter not expected to play in Game 2
Duncan missed the Spurs' last full workout Saturday with a stomach virus, but is expected to be ready for Monday night's tipoff.
"He'll be fine," Popovich said.
The Spurs should be well rested for the series opener. They completed their first-round sweep of the injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday (April 28), and practiced every other day since getting last Monday off.
Center Tiago Splitter, who missed the last game against the Lakers with a sprained left ankle, is still sidelined and won't play Monday night, Popovich said.
Forward Boris Diaw, who hasn't played since having a cyst in his lumbar cyst excised April 12, has been practicing and is expected to be available Monday night.
"Everybody would like to have a full rotation," Popovich said. "It looks like (Warriors forward) David Lee is getting a little more ready to play, and I'm sure they're happy about that. The more the merrier."
Lee was expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his right flexor in the Warriors' Game 1 loss to the Nuggets, but he suited out for Game 6 and played about a minute and a half.