OAKLAND — Even with that NBA-record 24-0 start, Stephen Curry and Co. can't shake the San Antonio Spurs.
Now, the defending champion Golden State Warriors finally get to face the team chasing them in the Western Conference in a Monday night showdown anticipated for months pitting the past two NBA title teams.
"That's going to be one of the fun things about this game is that we haven't played them yet. It's already almost February. It's a strange schedule," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said after practice Sunday. "Win or lose, both teams will really benefit from playing against each other."
Pals Kerr and Gregg Popovich spoke by phone Thursday night once Kerr's return from a lengthy leave of absence following back surgery had been set, and just in time to face mentor Popovich and red-hot San Antonio.
They will get their greetings, handshakes and hugs, then coach on opposite sidelines in what could be one of the most entertaining games yet this season.
San Antonio is riding a 13-game winning streak coming into Oracle Arena, where the Warriors are determined to extend their 38-game regular-season home winning streak dating to late last January that includes a 20-0 mark this season.
"There's no doubt that players will look at it like more than that (just a game)," Popovich said. "They can't help it. They'll be playing the best team in the league, and they'll be fired up about that."
Kerr played four of his final five seasons with San Antonio. Yes, he will be fired up for this one, too — especially given his respect for what the organization has done in almost two decades of dominance.
"It's remarkable to me, I'm 50 years old, I've been retired for 13 years and there's still three guys and the same coach who are all on that team. It makes no sense. The continuity and just the program they've built, it's amazing," Kerr said. "What's it been, about a 20-year run? It's unprecedented."
He is referring to longtime Spurs stalwarts Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Shortly after the Spurs announced Sunday that Duncan wouldn't play against Golden State because of right knee soreness, Kerr cracked, "Tim is 57 years old, so he deserves a night off every once in a while."
Two games separate these teams. Golden State (40-4) began the season 24-0, while San Antonio (38-6) is still right on the Warriors' tail.
"Excellent basketball," Curry, the reigning MVP, said of the Spurs. "It's going to be a fun game. ... It's just another regular-season game against a great team that we have to protect home court. In order to do that, we've got to be at our best for sure. You've got to assume they will."
Golden State is chasing the Chicago Bulls' NBA record of 44 straight regular-season home wins from March 30, 1995-April 4, 1996. The Warriors, who haven't lost at Oracle since a 113-111 overtime defeat to Chicago last Jan. 27, matched the 1985-86 Celtics for third in Friday's win against Indiana in Kerr's long-awaited return to the bench and behind Curry's triple-double.
Someone asked Kerr whether he timed it this way to be back for the big game. Hardly. He has been eager to get back since the moment he was forced to take a lengthy leave of absence on Oct. 1 following complications from two back surgeries. He's finally feeling better — no headaches, no nausea, no fear of a player hurting him if someone lands on him during a hustle play.
The Warriors and Spurs still must play four times, and each team knows it must go through the other to win it all. Golden State expects to chase another championship after last year's franchise-record 67-win season and first NBA title in 40 years.
San Antonio has been an elite team since Curry was just a kid watching Duncan and Co.
"For sure, that's why they're legends, or they're going to be legends one day when they're done," Curry said. "Obviously those three guys and Coach Popovich are the main foundation of that, but they've been able to add pieces as they've gone through their careers and stay at a high level, so it says a lot about the tone and atmosphere and expectations they set.
"When you wear a Spurs uniform you better be ready to elevate your game to their level. That's the most impressive thing."
Golden State returned from the All-Star break last season to beat the Spurs 110-99 at home, but San Antonio also handed the Warriors one of their two losses at Oracle Arena in a 113-100 win on Nov. 11, 2014.
"It's Game 45. I don't believe in barometer games at all," Warriors forward Draymond Green said Sunday. "If you need to win or lose to someone to know where you're at, you're turned in the wrong direction anyway."