Having put the irritable Houston Rockets to bed in a Game 6 win on the road, the Golden State Warriors have advanced to their fifth straight Western Conference Finals series.
It’s probably safe to say that whether they play the Denver Nuggets or Portland Trail Blazers, neither will put up quite the struggle that the Rockets did in the 2018 Western Conference Finals — all shade aside, that was an amazing team that the Warriors faced last year and it’s hard to imagine either of this year’s possible opponents pushing them to seven games, much less taking a 3-2 series lead at any point. Nevertheless, each of these teams present different challenges, so I present a question: which team would you rather have the Warriors face?
As we should have learned from this year’s series against the Rockets, regular season performance doesn’t mean a whole lot — teams grow, rotations change, personnel changes, and of course injuries can influence outcomes at any time. But let’s take a quick look at what the Blazers and Nuggets did against the Warriors in the regular season just to establish some common ground for discussion.
The Denver Nuggets
Pros: Although the Nuggets were close to the Warriors in the standings, there was a clear distance between these two teams on the court. The Nuggets — like most teams — didn’t exactly have an answer for the Splash Brothers as Klay Thompson went off for 39 against them in March and he went for a game-high tying 31 along with Steph Curry in January. If you throw DeMarcus Cousins into the mix — he scored a season-high 28 points against the Nuggets on April 2 — the outlook probably looks even better for the Warriors as they aim to make their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance.
We could dig deeper into this matchup — and we will if Denver advances — but this simply comes down to the Nuggets lacking answers for key Warriors stars.
Cons: Where Denver could really make things interesting for the Warriors is in the paint, specifically on the boards. Both the Rockets and L.A. Clippers have given the Warriors trouble on the boards so far in the playoffs and the Nuggets had the second-highest offensive rebounding percentage in the league this year. It has been no secret that the Warriors can be rattled by teams that go at them aggressively on the boards during the Steve Kerr era and the Nuggets have multiple guys who can crash the boards, including All-Star center Nikola Jokic.
While the Warriors generally contained Jokic — his -26 plus/minus against the Warriors was his worst against any opponent and his 23.7 points per game was the second-worst against any Western Conference opponent — he’s a threat to be accounted for. Otherwise, Gary Harris dropped a season-high 28 on the Warriors back in Denver’s November win, but was either inactive or ineffective after that.
The Portland Trail Blazers
Pros: We would get to watch Oakland native Damian Lillard play in his first Western Conference Finals ever in his hometown during the last conference finals series at Oracle Arena. If you’re a Bay Area native and that alone doesn’t get you excited...
Reality is that the Warriors have thoroughly dominated the Blazers during the Kerr era run: they’re 8-1 against the Blazers and you might recall that the one loss was during the 2016 playoff run when Curry was out. The advantage the Warriors wield over the Blazers clearly lies in the backcourt: the Blazers simply cannot defend the Splash Brothers with Lillard playing next to C.J. McCollum and the Warriors are adept at exploiting that when they need to. Lillard is going to get his regardless, but McCollum scored just 72 points on 71 shots against the Warriors in four game during the regular season. Jusuf Nurkic was better against the Warriors than almost anyone in the league this season, but he’s out due to that gruesome injury he suffered near the end of the season.
Also, the Blazers were 30th in the NBA in opponent turnovers and... whew ... the fewer of those the better for the Warriors.
In other words, the Blazers are just going to have a hard time keeping up with the Warriors over the course of a series no matter what kind of show Lillard puts on.
Cons: Lillard feels like the type of player who can win a game — or get his team close enough — by himself. So that’s dangerous, even if it hasn’t exactly panned out that way against the Warriors in the past.
But the other concern is rebounding, again: we already saw above that the Nuggets were the second best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, but the Blazers were the best. The difference is that they just did it differently: while the Nuggets have three or four relatively good offensive rebounders, mid-season signee Enes Kanter was the second-best offensive rebounder in the league and largely carries the team in that department with Nurkic out. After that, it’s Zach Collins or guys who just don’t play a whole lot.
So which of these teams would you rather face in the 2019 Western Conference Finals? Vote in the poll below and explain your choice in the comments!
Who would you rather face in the WCF?
This poll is closed
Portland Trail Blazers
Hard to say
Who cares?! We three-peatin’!