Programming note: Spurs-Warriors coverage starts Saturday at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territory restrictions apply)
OAKLAND – The Warriors compete against the Trail Blazers and the Mavericks and the Suns and the Thunder. They're annoyed by the Kings and irritated by the Rockets.
They detest the Clippers.
When turning in the direction of the Spurs, the Warriors practically genuflect.
The Warriors so revere the Spurs it's as if their Wheaties box is decorated with San Antonio's team photo, or their bedroom walls are covered with posters of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Excuse the Warriors for doing hourly online searches of the Spurs. They want to grow up and become the Spurs.
The Warriors are growing; they're on the brink of their second straight playoff appearance and are 18 games over .500 for the first time since 1993-94. But nothing measures the rate of their growth better than confronting the Spurs, who invade Oracle Arena on Saturday night.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers concedes the Spurs are a "pretty good example to follow.'' Coach Mark Jackson, describing the Spurs as having "excellence across the board,'' credits coach Gregg Popovich for his deft handling of a roster constantly being adjusted around stars Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
"It starts with a great basketball mind, one of the greatest coaches – not basketball, but coaches in the history of sports – in Pop,'' Jackson said after practice Friday. "It's what he does, the example he sets, and then great leadership with some Hall of Famers, first and foremost Tim Duncan and obviously, Tony and Manu and the great players surrounding them.
"The Whole organization is a model. And they deserve a lot of credit for how they continue to set the bar. It's awfully impressive.''
This fascination certainly ripened last spring, when the Warriors pushed the Spurs to six games in the Western Conference semifinals. The Spurs eventually advanced to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Miami in a fabulous seven-game series.
Then there is one-sided Warriors-Spurs history. The Spurs have spent the past 16 years treating the Warriors like irascible little brothers to stuff into a closet and cover with rags before closing the door. San Antonio has won 50 of the past 58 games and has swept the Warriors in four of the past five seasons.
Make that five of the past six seasons if the Warriors can't find a win on Saturday or April 2 in San Antonio. The Spurs have won the first two games this season.
The gap, however, has narrowed considerably. Both Warriors losses this season were by 2 points, 76-74 on Nov. 8 in San Antonio and 104-102 on Dec. 19 in Oakland. The little brother is sprouting up.
"We've beaten them in the past,'' shooting guard Klay Thompson said. "It's just . . . it's more mental when you have to play 48 minutes. You can have lapses against not-very-good teams. When you play an elite team, you can't have those. When you play somebody like the Spurs, you've just to got to play every possession.''
That's a part of the tried and true Spurs formula, and it has resulted in four championships since 1998. They've made the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons, with only three first-round exits.
The Spurs are the model NBA organization, the Apple of the league. They may be the ideal organization in all of professional sports. They play hard and smart and with dignity. They thrive despite change, progress through evolution. They don't talk trash or make bold predictions or end up on mug shots.
And the minute you start believing they finally have gotten too old, they go out and prove otherwise.
"I don't think anybody looks at them and says, "We want the Spurs,' '' Jackson said. "But one thing we know is we've had success. We play them well. They're a great basketball team but they're in the Western Conference. So they're a team that, one way or another, if you plan on getting somewhere, you have to be able to deal with.''
As great as the Spurs have been, no perennially successful American sports franchise is harder to hate. Which, I suppose, is all the more reason to want to be like them.