Game 52 Preview: Blazers vs. Warriors

This game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on CSN. 

A Look at the Warriors

Beset by injuries, drama, and a generally mismatched roster the Warriors have struggled to an 18-35 record.  They're right around .500 at home, with their best wins being Denver, Atlanta, Utah, Phoenix, and Portland.  They are much worse off on the road, the source of much of their trouble.  They have won 3 of their last 4, however, scoring 124 to beat Phoenix, 116 to conquer Utah, and 144 (not in overtime either) to douse the Knicks.  The bad news for Golden State is if they're not shooting the moon they're not winning.  14 of their 18 victories have come in games where they scored 110 or more.  It's nice when you're capable of scoring that much, but when you have to score that much you have a long road ahead of you every game.  The basic rule of playing against the Warriors:  Don't give up 30-point quarters and you win.

Obviously Golden State has some big-time scorers to hit those heights.  The last couple of weeks they've been all about Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson.  (This team is full of names, those two among them, that I haven't seen mentioned much in trades.  That's curious to me, as the franchise is in disarray and needs a fresh start.)  Both players are big (Maggette being freakishly built), versatile, and can score.  Jackson has really been a jack-of-all-trades for this team this year and is having a marvelous season.  Both give the Blazers trouble as well.  In addition our old friend Monta Ellis is back, albeit a slightly slower and out of shape version.  He's taking a ton of shots to score a mediocre number of points but he is scoring.  He has also been a thorn in the Blazers' side.  Oh!  And they have Jamaal Crawford, another guard who nets 20+ on a regular basis.  I swear, if they got enough shots this foursome could probably score 100 all on their own.

Backing up all of the gunners are small forward Kelenna Azubuike (I spelled that without looking!), power forward Rony Turiaf, and center Andris Biedrins.  Except Biedrins is out with an ankle problem.  That puts an already poor rebounding team about 12 rebounds short.  Fortunately Turiaf and Azubuike are energy guys who can help fill the gap.  Nevertheless the motto of the day is "shoot and duck".  The rest of the bench can be occasionally interesting.  Lanky small forward Anthony Randolph is still finding his way around but he can rebound a little.  Point guard C.J. Watson has hurt Portland.  Remember that guy Anthony Morrow who had a couple good games early (including one against the Blazers) and Golden State fans were speculating he was going to make Monta Ellis expendable?  He pops up with a mild double-digit game every fourth or fifth time out but since the return of the real Ellis he's not seeing much court time...like maybe 3 minutes per game.  Beware the hype.

You already know the game Golden State wants to play.  Run you, gun you, stun you, and win.  They won't rebound.  They won't defend except to turn you over and take it back on you.  When asked about a good shot their reply is, "What means ‘good'?"  Shots are to them what groupies are to rock stars.  They'll only turn down the ugliest...and some nights not even them.  They will dare you to score with them.  Most teams can.  It's a special challenge for Portland considering the measured pace of the offense.  The Blazers average 99 points per game.  Golden State has only scored that low 4 times in 53 games.  Plus the slashing, gunning perimeter nature of the Warriors' game puts pressure on all of the Blazers' weak defensive spots.  Portland has trouble handling two potent offensive players, let alone four, let alone four at once (which you could see from this team).  The Blazers lost their last game by the Bay then clobbered Golden State by an even bigger margin at home.  This game is on the road which makes it difficult.  Energy will be at a premium.

Keys to the Game

1.  I know we have young point guards thrust into bigger minutes by the Blake injury and some turnovers are inevitable.  But if you're going to cough the ball up to the Warriors you might as well forget it.  And make no mistake, they're good at getting the ball from you.  They're big, quick, and they gamble.  Low turnovers will be critical if we're not to lose ground.

2.  You can't just fall into the Warriors' style and expect to win at their place.  Portland will undoubtedly play faster tonight than usual and they'll get extra shots up.  But the Blazers will be far better off if those shots come off of offensive rebounds than if they just match Golden State possession-for-possession tonight.  Rebounding is THE key to pace and ball control.  If the Warriors shoot it quick, you rebound it quick.  Smother them on the defensive boards and let your big men dominate on the offensive boards.

3.  The Blazers have been off and on with their transition defense lately.  Mostly they do well but there are stretches every game where they lose concentration.  The problem is the Warriors can drop 10 on you in those short stretches.  Our guards and small forwards have to be alert and have to be ready to get back.  This is particularly true if fouls, fatigue, or just ineptitude cause us to run strange lineups.  Somebody--or preferably everybody--has got to take responsibility.  You can't just run to get points, you also have to run to prevent them.

4.  Please Lamarcus, hurt them.  Greg can too but Lamarcus could drop 30 on this team if he works on getting close to the basket.  If he's just shooting jumpers he may end up hurting us even if his percentage is pretty good.  Big men are our advantage.  Going inside strengthens that advantage.

5.  And speaking of...if you take three-pointers (and Golden State defends them poorly so I suspect this will be a viable method of attack) you better make them.  Long rebounds are instant fast breaks for the opponent.

6.  You may see a lot of bench players get minutes in this game.  Golden State wears you down with strength and speed as well as style of play.   The Blazers are on the second game of a back-to-back.  You could see Channing Frye play meaningful minutes.  You could see Rudy Fernandez get bigger minutes.  This game is wide open for Jerryd Bayless.  Those guys have all got to score if they set foot on the hardwood.  It's not a game where you can absorb a bunch of 6-point, 25-minute efforts.

Final Thoughts

This is by no means an easy get, but it's an important one.  We're to the point now where individual games start to matter.  This one also matters psychologically, as it would be much better to go into the break on a little winning streak than having gone up and down during the first part of an easy schedule stretch.  Pray that nobody has gone to the All-Star break early.

Check out the doings at GoldenStateofMind. 

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here. 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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