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Preview: Warriors host high-flying Pelicans for Game 1 matchup

New Orleans surprised us by sweeping the Blazers, and now travel to the Bay to face the defending champs, who might be welcoming Steph Curry back soon.

New Orleans Pelicans v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

How to watch

What: Round 2, Game 1 — Golden State Warriors (4-1) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (4-0)

Day: Saturday, April 28, 2018

Time: 7:30 p.m. PST

Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

TV: TNT, NBC Sports Bay Area

Livestream: WatchTNT | NBC Sports Streaming

Radio: 95.7 The Game, Warriors Mobile App and Warriors Radio Network

Injury Report

Warriors: Steph Curry (questionable, knee), Patrick McCaw (out, back)

Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins (out, achilles)

Curry Status

As I write this on Friday afternoon, Steph Curry’s status is listed as questionable for Game 1. If he does play, it will be his first game in a few weeks and he will likely be on a minutes restriction. This is a big story, but it has yet to be announced if he will play.

Crescent City’s three-headed monster

The New Orleans Pelicans are not supposed to be here. When DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending achilles injury before the All-Star break, blog boys and girls all over the world wrote off the Pelicans. Sure, Anthony Davis is a top-5 NBA talent, but we thought, “Without Cousins, Davis was left with nothing.” We were wrong.

Enter Jrue Holiday. Before this season, Holiday was the subject of “look at his salary” jokes. Holiday is the 14th best-paid player in the NBA and 8th best-paid guard. And for most of this season, he was an above-average (but not elite) point guard. Also of note, until this season, Holiday has averaged 12.1 points per game in the playoffs. In the series sweep of Portland, Holiday averaged an astonishing 27.8 points per game. He’s playing the best basketball of his career and has through-the-roof confidence entering Round 2.

Unlike Round 1, the Warriors have the luxury to put Klay Thompson on Holiday, not Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Holiday, like most of New Orleans’ guards is a streaky shooter. It’s important that the Warriors contain him at the beginning of the game so he doesn’t gain confidence.

Holiday won’t be alone though. In fact, Holiday isn’t even close to being the best player on the team. Anthony Davis holds that honor and belongs in the same conversation with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant as the best player in the series. In Round 1, Davis averaged a nasty 33 points per game along with 11 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks. He’s building a legacy and for him, beating the Warriors is part of the narrative he hopes to build.

The last feature of the Pelicans’ strange first round success story is Rajon Rondo. In Chicago last season, Rondo’s career was as good as dead. But he has risen. Rondo has jump started the Pelicans on both sides of the ball in their last four games. Steve Kerr’s first priority should be to minimize his scoring threat. His career three-point shooting percentage in the playoffs is 27.6% and he shouldn’t be much of a threat on offense. In the small sample series against Portland, he shot 3 for 7 from three and averaged an NBA-leading 13.3 assists per game. Task 1 for the Warriors on defense: don’t get beat by silly Rondo threes.

The Pelicans are hot right now. Davis is a force of nature and will likely torch the Dubs all series. That’s okay. He’s an All-World player. Rajon Rondo was allegedly washed six months ago and is playing over his head right now. Holiday is good, but not an All-Star. With or without Curry, the Warriors have the players to stop at least Rondo. Period. Ian Clark, E’Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic are other ingredients bubbling in the Pelicans’ gumbo. And while each of them can contribute, they depend on Holiday and Rondo as facilitators to create space off the ball. Stop Rondo, minimize Holiday and see where they land.

Dubs

The Warriors took care of business in the first round against an emotionally and physically depleted Spurs squad. While the offense was fine, it was their staunch defense that elevated them through the first series. Klay Thompson, who shot 53.6% from three in the first round looks to continue his inspired play. Draymond Green picked up the slack at the end of series as a menace on defense. Kevin Durant was the consistent force behind each performance averaging 28 points per game.

Note: Only three players on the Warriors averaged double figures in points in Round 1. Starting Game 1 against the Pelicans, especially with a minutes-restricted Curry, the Warriors will need a burst of offensive fire power from somewhere. Maybe it will be Draymond Green, who barely surpassed 11 points a game against the Spurs (which isn’t great given that he averaged 11 field goal attempts a game). Maybe it will be JaVale McGee who starred in Game 1 against the Spurs. Or maybe Andre Iguodala will step up. It doesn’t really matter.

The Spurs were the least talented team in Western Conference playoffs. Each game the Dubs play without Curry, a role player will need to outperform their usual expectations. As Curry gains steam, the pressure is lifted from the bench.

Here’s to a quick series.