Game Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific TV: KGW
Pop Quiz: What do the Blazers and the Raiders have in common?
1. Both wear black.
2. Both have an "A" in their name.
3. Neither team can win in Oakland.
Keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that this is Portland's third game in three nights. That may mean the rest of this preview belongs in parentheses.
Your Golden State Warriors have started the season 5-11, courtesy of a tough schedule, some bad beats, and just enough talent to compete without really winning much. So far their starting lineup has relied on two imposing scorers: Monta Ellis and David Lee. With Stephen Curry injured for most of the year Ellis has feasted on all the shots he could wish for. He's only shooting 42% overall plus a miserable 24% from three-point range (and yes, he takes them) but that's still translated into 23 points per game. More impressively, his assist total has ballooned to 7 per game, in part because his supporting cast can shoot. Lee adds 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 51% shooting. Each will be familiar to Blazer fans as nemeses from years past.
The worse news for Portland is that Curry has returned at long last. Whatever you think of his overall game or his health, this guy can hit jumpers all...night...long. He is to jump shooting what Barry White was to bass. And that's not in a Tim Legler "I'm a specialist" kind of way. He's a legit offensive threat, can get his shot off, and shoots plenty. In limited duty so far he's at 47% from the field, over 39% from the arc. He's played 7 games so far this season. 3 of those have been 20+ point efforts.
Small forward Dorell Wright and center Andris Biedrins round out the starting lineup. Wright is one of the few guys playing major minutes for this team whose shooting is off...a three-point guy without his best weapon. He rebounds but neither that nor his defense are good enough to qualify him for his role without his shot on target...that is if the team had a better option, which they don't. Biedrins is posting impressive per-minute numbers in rebounding and sporting a gaudy 71% field goal percentage but it's been years since he's played significant minutes for this team. He's averaging 17 mpg so far this season, picking up fouls and the occasional block in addition to his boards.
The Warriors' starting lineup has plenty of firepower and knows how to get good shots. You have to be careful of them. The bench, of which they make copious use, is a little more hit and miss. Scoring dynamo Nate Robinson provides fireworks at point. Brandon Rush and rookie Klay Thompson give them a couple more three-point threats on the wing. Kwame Brown was slated to join the big men but he has a torn pectoral muscle and is out of action, so the Warriors make do with the struggling Ekpe Udoh and a mish-mash of small lineups.
The Warriors have toned down their freewheeling offense from years past. They're middle-of-the-road in possessions per game, fast break points, fast break efficiency, three-pointers attempted. It's like contrition for trying to win with a Harlem Globetrotters style all those years. Unfortunately they haven't yet found a steady formula to replace their gimmick. They're not a paint-scoring team, they're poor rebounders, they don't force turnovers that much, they're not good defenders individually or as a group, opponents score everywhere on them, and they foul more than any team in the league. They have a lot of good jump shooters and David Lee looks really nifty some nights. That's about it.
On paper this should be a good matchup for the Blazers. Portland also has jump shooters (at least in theory) and can do plenty of other things well. Normally you'd be concerned about the Warriors' marksmen but unless Lee destroys the Blazers in the middle, causing the defense to sag inward, Portland's athletes should be able to cover on the perimeter. If you can defend Golden State at all you will win the game. You think of them as an offensive powerhouse but in reality they've scored over 100 only 5 times this season, winning but 2 of those games. They're 3-8 when they don't score 100. The Blazers should be able to keep them below and should, with any effort at all, be able to penetrate that defense and score enough to win themselves. Even if they miss shots they should be able to rebound the Warriors into submission.
But...the Blazers don't win in Oakland. Also this is Portland's third game in three nights.
You don't want to imagine what's going to happen if the Blazers have tired legs, don't close out on those shooters, and don't test the defense with anything but their own jumpers. Let's hope we don't have to watch that game.
Hear more about Golden State at Golden State of Mind.
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