Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW and ESPN
This is decision time for the Blazers. Are they going to be like Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland, breaking their own well-rehearsed but neurotic rules to achieve the greater good: saving and smooching a wily-yet-attractive Emma Stone? Or are they going to be like Jesse Eisenberg in Adventureland, stumbling their way through a misguided bastardization of a 80's Brat Pack-meets-Meatballs script, pleasing nobody and achieving nothing beyond a halfhearted, awkward cuddle with Kristen Stewart before the credits mercifully roll?
(I wrote that intro before Portland lost by 15 to the Wizards at home last night. It's twice as dire now.)
As you may recall, the last time the Blazers met the Golden State Warriors they were treated to a smashtastic loss courtesy of guard Stephen Curry. Golden State's golden boy defied probability, blasting through the implied limits of the Pelton-Golliver constant while shooting approximately 120% from three-point range. He hung 32 on the Blazers that night, administering quite the whuppin'. Forward David Lee also gave scoring lessons to LaMarcus Aldridge. It was a bad night all around for the boys in red and black. But this was nothing new in Oakland. The Blazers have never fared well there. Nor have they fared well on the road this season. Nor have they kept down opposing guards. They have to reverse all of those trends tonight if they want a win. And make no mistake, they need this victory.
The Warriors continue on their slightly-below-mediocre trajectory this year. Since they beat the Blazers on the 25th of January they've gone 4-3, bringing their total record to 10-14. Their backcourt of Curry and Monta Ellis is playing exceptionally well. One or the other has topped 30 four times in the last two weeks. Ellis rang up the Thunder for 48 one week ago. They're streaking. Lee is also playing well, scoring 18 on 51% shooting and racking up 10 rebounds besides. Beyond that the Warriors have two problems:
1. Most of their remaining players are one- or two-dimensional.
2. Defense is not one of those dimensions.
A couple of Warriors have come on since the last time we saw this team. Small forward Dorrell Wright has upped his shot to "hit and miss" from "miss and miss". Also forward Ekpe Udoh has parlayed his energy game into extra minutes stolen from center Andris Biedrins, who plays intermittently nowadays. The Warriors' center-free lineups don't hurt them much on the offensive end but cost them dearly rebounding. Lee is the main board man. After that it's sleight of hand and prayer.
As you might expect from a guard-heavy lineup the Warriors are good on the break, shy in points in the paint. Unlike many backcourt-oriented teams (cough, Washington, cough) they manage both a good percentage from the field and efficiency. Their guards can hit, particularly from three-point range. The Warriors are the best in the league from distance. With the floor spread that wide, scoring for Lee and company becomes easier and percentages go up across the board. Also true to form the Warriors are big on assists and steals. To their credit turnovers remain moderate. They don't want to get fancy. If they're not breaking they'll find Lee, find the open man with the pass, and shoot away.
Defense is another story. The Warriors allow points in the paint, plenty of points on the run, high shooting percentages inside and out, and more foul shots than any team in the league. Their offense has evolved to a more mature NBA look but their defense is classic Golden State. As a result they win and lose games in the 100's. If you can slow the tempo on them, though, they'll lose in the 90's.
The problem for Portland is that there are so many ways this game can get away from them. They're sandwiched in the second night of a three-game streak. LaMarcus Aldridge hurt his ankle last night. They could get overpowered. They could get over-matched in talent. They could get run out of the building. They could fail to close out on shooters. They could allow the Warriors gift rebounds. Portland's interior defenders could fail against Lee, requiring perimeter help that can't come against a high-percentage three-point shooting team. Or the Blazers could just bork their own offense. If Aldridge plays the Blazers are a better, more well-rounded team than are the Warriors but the style conflict, schedule, possible injury, and Portland's peculiar weaknesses make this a tougher game than record would suggest.
Given that's the case, a decent showing (let alone a victory) will depend on Portland's will as much as anything. If this game were at home few would be worried. The Blazers need to adopt that home mentality on the road, in this building where they've had so little success. The Blazers need this game and that need should drive them to wipe out the intangibles and play the Warriors tough. You would never circle a February 15th showdown against a below-.500 team as critical, but the Blazers need to win in order to avoid putting incredible pressure on tomorrow night's game. The question of the hour: Are you the Blazers and are these the Warriors or is some other story operative here?
We'll find out tonight.
Read about the Warriors at Golden State of Mind.
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