Who: Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trailblazers
Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA
When: 12:30pm PST, Sunday 4/16/2017
How (to watch): ABC
Blog Buddy: Blazers Edge
Note that there is also an A’s game – so if you are going to the game, plan for additional travel/parking time!
For the second year in a row the Warriors will face the Blazers in the playoffs. If you recall, we were without Stephen Curry for the first three games of last year’s second round series before he came back and set the NBA overtime scoring record with 17 points.
When the Warriors brought in Kevin Durant, it wasn’t so they could set another win record in the regular season. That trade — much like the entire team’s focus — was squarely aimed at the post season. In that sense, today is the first game of the entire season that really matters. Last season the Warriors came as close as a team can come, but fell just short of winning it all. Now they will seek to correct that shortfall — four wins at a time. First up: the Portland Trailblazers.
On paper, this series shouldn’t really be that close. We defeated them quickly in the playoffs last year and have won 10 of the last 11 match-ups. On a related note, according to Ben Golliver, this is the second most lopsided matchup in NBA playoff history.
By point differential, Warriors vs. Blazers is tied for the second-most one-sided first-round playoff series of the last decade. pic.twitter.com/rn2wVbprc2— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 13, 2017
But, as the Warriors and their fans know, basketball is not just a numbers game; there are no guarantees here. A series can hinge on a player getting hot or making a bone-headed play, so here are my two key factors.
Battle of the backcourts
The Warriors and Blazers are constructed pretty similarly: a dynamic scoring backcourt, surrounded by a bevy of agile wing defenders capable of covering multiple positions defensively. Unlike the Warriors, it just doesn’t seem possible for the Blazers to contend in the series unless their backcourt outplays ours.
Portland excelled at shooting the three ball this year, hitting 37.5% as a team this season. If they want to have any chance at all in this series, it will be up to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to lead the way. I strongly recommend you check out Blazer’s Edge’s preview highlighting how key personnel have fared in recent meetings between these two teams. So far, Dame has struggled against the Warriors, which is obviously no good (for them, not us).
Portland is also at a bit of a disadvantage defensively. No shame in it, as the Warriors have one the league’s best defenses. Meanwhile, Lillard and McCollum have both been dogged by criticism of their defense. Further swinging the balance in favor of the Warriors is the defensive prowess of shooting guard, Klay Thompson. Although not well-represented in a lot of defensive metrics, Thompson’s size advantage and unrelenting motor are unquestionably another advantage arrow pointing towards the Warriors.
Finally, Curry opened the furnace door to his soul the other day when he talked to The Undefeated about his perspective on last year’s final loss.
When you do reflect on the playoffs last year, what comes to mind?
Curry: It’s hard to not think about anything but the Finals. It was such a powerful moment just realizing you’re so close to getting it done. For us, we’ve done a really good job of turning the page and just focusing on this year to prepare ourselves, knowing what it takes, having won one and having come up short on one. Nothing is guaranteed. Just how important every possession is. How important is your mentality going into the playoffs? It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the regular games. It’s all defined in these next 2 1/2 months.
He doesn’t talk like this very often, but he is intensely focused and burning with a desire to get back in the position where he can rectify the unpleasant resolution that is still sticking in his craw almost a year later. This does not bode well for the Trailblazers if they hope to “steal” a game or two.
The single biggest question coming into this series is whether Jusuf Nurkic will play or not. The Blazers have looked much more formidable since they acquired him for a song via trade (from Denver). Currently, the Blazers have him listed as a game time decision. I can’t decide if I’m willing to believe the uncertainty here is legitimate. Nurkic was out with a hairline fracture in his lower leg that was re-evaluated on Friday; however the update pretty much amounted to an official version of “please stand by.”
If Nurkic can play, he will be a factor. The Warriors build their defensive strategy around making Lillard’s life difficult. If Nurkic can indeed play significant minutes for the Blazers (and be successful), then any adjustments the Warriors make towards stopping Nurkic will necessitate some lesser amount of attention on Lillard. This could even screw up our center position rotation if Kerr needs to play Zaza Pachulia more to combat the girth of Nurkic, a huge load of a man who is crafty with the ball and can score in the low post off a variety of moves.
I’m going to go the safe route here and guess that Nurkic does not play in games one and two. The Blazers have a long history of injured big men, so I would be pretty shocked if they pushed their best frontcourt player to return too early.
For the Warriors, our biggest injury storyline is that Kevin Durant is now back after suffering a knee injury that kept him out for basically the entire month of March. He’s looked good so far in his return and although he’s definitely not at 100% just yet. But whatever percent of KFD we have available will be just fine. I haven’t seen any discussion of it in the interviews, but I assume Durant will be on a minutes restriction through most (if not all) of this first round of the 2017 playoffs.
Matt Barnes (ankle) is still out, which is a bummer since he stepped up so much while Durant was out – no timeline on his return. Kevon Looney joins Barnes on the IR, but given that he was extremely unlikely to play non-garage minutes, it isn’t really any concern.
Klay Thompson will be the leading scorer.
Draymond Green will not pick up a flagrant or technical foul in this series.
Warriors in four.