Presti on if Durant is being shut down for the season: "Essentially, that's the direction we're headed right now."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 20, 2015
So now the Warriors are almost locked into a matchup with either the Thunder or the Pelicans, which they played last night. Surprisingly, the Thunder beat the East-leading Hawks last night behind yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double to move two games up on New Orleans for the eighth seed. But I don't see how much the Thunder can legitimately defend without Durant and Serge Ibaka -- it is going to be a fight down to the last few games.
Yes, the game was a bit marred by major players being injured on both sides -- Klay Thompson was out for the Warriors, while Omer Asik and MVP candidate Anthony Davis did not play for New Orleans -- but looking forward to the playoffs it could be a harbinger of how the teams play when those players are not on the floor.
And how did the teams fare? Well, what a surprise: the Warriors, as they have done all season, smashed New Orleans 112-96. Golden State shot 50 percent from the field, and creamed the Pelicans in the paint (58-30) and on the break (29-5) without having to face their two best rim protectors.
Tonight, the Warriors will play the Jazz for the final time this season, and look to win the season series. Utah, surprisingly, beat the Warriors back on January 30, when Golden State started off the game terribly and never led. Though Stephen Curry scored 32 that night, he couldn't get much help, as the Jazz used a balanced attack (seven players with at least nine points) led by Gordon Hayward's 26 to get a comfortable lead and hold on.
It will be interesting to see how the Warriors play as part of a back-to-back at home, something pretty unusual in today's NBA, as well as playing with sleeved jerseys once again. They're also playing a team at full strength with at least semi-respectability (the Jazz would be fighting for the seventh seed in the East) for the first time in two weeks, since they faced the Clippers on March 8.
Utah has been absolutely rolling over the past few weeks, with an 12-3 record and the best defense in the league since the All-Star Break. Two of its young players are doing especially well: Rudy Gobert has blossomed into a possible franchise center and Hayward is showing why the Jazz locked him up over the summer. Though the Jazz have not a chance at making the playoffs this season, many around the league believe with all their young talent they could make a run next season. My colleague Paul Flannery wrote: "Out of nowhere, the Jazz are both frightening and fascinating and there is suddenly no limit to their potential."
They'll have to test their mettle against the league's best offense.
And on the other end of the floor, the Warriors, as the most stingy defense over the course of the season, will no doubt have the upper hand against the Jazz's offense. Utah has a bottom-15 offensive efficiency. However, their most-used lineup on the road by far over the post-All-Star Break stretch has outscored teams by nearly 19 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats.
Without question, Utah has improved since the All-Star Break, and they are on a roll, having beaten some quality teams -- the Spurs, Rockets and Trail Blazers come to mind. But the only Western Conference team in the playoff race the Jazz have defeated on the road since the break has been the Grizzlies, and that was when Memphis was playing without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen.
Further, the Warriors at home are a monster unlike any other in the NBA. 31-2, with a league-best 16.9 Net Rating. Plus, after losing to them earlier in the year with a lackluster effort, you just know the Warriors will want to send a message.
- Warriors 115, Jazz 94.
- Stephen Curry goes for 26 and 11 assists.
- Rudy Gobert has 20 points and four blocks.
- Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green hold Hayward to 5-20 shooting.