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Game 11 Preview: Blazers vs. Warriors

A Look at the Warriors

A day at the local firing range...

OK son, sight down the barrel.  That’s it.  Envision yourself hitting the center of that target.  Slow your heartbeat, controlled breathing, gently squeeze the trigger…  Nice!

How’d I do, coach?

Not bad.  High and left but better than last time.  Your breathing still needs work.  Let’s try it again.  Remember, take your time.  Quality, not quantity.  Each shot is a small stroke in your signature of perfection.

Alright.  I just…


Coach!  What the heck is that?!?

(sigh)  That’s the Golden State Warriors, son.

Can they hit the target firing like that?

Boy, there’s no target left over there.  I think they blew up the concession stand too.


And that’s the way the Warriors roll…stuck on full automatic.  After losing Baron Davis over the summer they went out and got Corey Maggette, who fires and scores just as much.  The idea was to come at you with Maggette, Monta Ellis (whose offensive production gives a whole new meaning to “point” guard), and Stephen Jackson.  Ellis was injured in a motorcycle accident this summer and hasn’t suited up but that hasn’t stopped Jackson from averaging 22 and Maggette 17.  Together the Warriors throw up 88 attempts per game, the highest in the league.  They’re the NBA version of a drive-by.  When they’re on all you can do is hit the ground flat and cover your head until it’s over.

As per usual, though, the Warriors aren’t on every night.  Their scores have ranged from a high of 121 against the Clippers to a low of 79 against Memphis.  Their defense is gratuitous enough that they really need to be in the 110’s to feel secure about a win.  They’re 1-6 when scoring under that mark, 4-6 overall.

One significant bright spot to the Warriors’ season has been the early play of center Andris Biedrins who, in addition to averaging 17 points, is grabbing a Hefty bag full of rebounds every contest.  Granted the pace at which the Warriors shoot (and invite their opponents to shoot) pad rebounding stats, but 5.4 offensive boards and 9.5 defensive for a 14.9 total is still impressive.  The guy has been above 18 rebounds thrice, curiously all losses for Golden State.

The overall play of the aforementioned Stephen Jackson has also been a bright spot, though he is throwing up an enormous amount of shots to get his 22.  He’s been playing a point-forward role in the old-school Don Nelson style and is also averaging 6.4 assists and 4 rebounds per game.  His running mate Maggette has also been shooting an atrocious percentage.  He’s slowly recovering from a hamstring injury.  Golden State also depends heavily on athletic shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike.  Unlike his backcourt partners he’s actually a somewhat efficient scorer.  At times he can pour in as many as Jackson or Maggette.  Most night’s he’s just reliable, which is a rarity on this team.

The Warriors throw out a circus full of supporting players.  Al Harrington started the year in Coach Nelson’s doghouse and is now out for a couple weeks with back spasms.  Small forward Brandan Wright has had a couple nice games but didn’t play at all the last time the Warriors took the court.  He may be in the coach’s doghouse as well.  Shooting guard Anthony Morrow is a newcomer on the scene.  The undrafted rookie played 42 minutes against the Clippers and scored 37 points on 15-20 shooting with 11 rebounds.  This may actually be good for the Blazers, as breakout games for unheralded rookies often result in overweening hubris for a good week following.  Beware the 4-for-16-and-you-got-yanked performance tonight.  (Morrow completed the starting lineup in that game, by the way.  It consisted of Biedrins and four shooting guards.  I tell you, this team is crazy!)  Point guard C.J. Watson and power forward Rony Turiaf round out the regular rotation.  (Provided you can call a Warriors’ rotation “regular”.  Imagine all of this with Monta Ellis back.)

As a team the Warriors trade on punishing production.  They’re not fancy.  They’re not great shooters.  They’re lousy from distance.  They want to get up a ton of shots and get to the line repeatedly.  Slow them down, make them think, punish their ball-handling, or take away the rim and you have a chance.  If you are at all careless or indifferent, however, they are going to hit you like a Mack Truck and then tattoo sneaker prints on your grave.

Keys to the Game

1.  One of the things the Blazers have always had problems with is stopping athletic guards.  The Warriors start four of them and bring more off the bench.  They are muscular guards too.  If Portland’s perimeter defenders don’t man up tonight (or zone up, as the case may be) and our big men get exposed in the interior it could be a long night.  This is not a team that you want to try to play small-ball with.  We have to protect our bigs and the rim at the same time.

2.  One reason to protect our bigs is that the Warriors are vulnerable to good rebounding and good post play.  Lamarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden should be pounding it inside all night long and boxing out hard on the boards.  The Warriors get and give up a ton of offensive rebounds.  Our bigs should be able to tip that balance in our favor.

3.  Another hazard area for us is our proclivity for jump shots.  The Warriors are going to love that even if we start out making them.  They’re going to bet that we’ll eventually start missing.  When we miss they’re going to want to run.  The first solution was elucidated in step two above:  get the ball inside.  The second critical step is for our perimeter players to get back in transition defense.

4.  Let’s say it again…despite the scoring punch up and down the lineup these guys are poor distance shooters.  That’s not to say you can let them hoist unguarded shots out there but in general you want to play them for the drive and then run out on them.  For once it wouldn’t be bad to see the game devolve into a three-point shooting contest.

5.  Limiting the Warriors’ offensive rebounds will go a long way towards keeping the score reasonable.  Keeping them off the line would just about finish the deal.  If you take away some of their extra opportunities they won’t find that magic 105-110 number they need.

Storylines of the Game

1.  Whose Smalls Will Come Through?

Jackson, Maggette, Azubuike, Morrow (?).  Roy, Fernandez, Outlaw.  There’s a lot of scoring punch and offensive derring-do in that list.  Golden State has an obvious firepower advantage but they’re not going to be able to shut down their Portland counterparts either.  If either side has an excellent game while the other has a mediocre one that’s where the contest will be won and lost.

2.  Do Portland’s Bigs Have Fun or Get Run?

There are two ways Portland’s size advantage could play out.  In the favorable scenario Golden State gets frustrated trying to keep Oden and Aldridge out of the paint.  Biedrins gets in early foul trouble.  The Warriors are forced to play some of their lesser-skilled bigs and pull out their high octane scorers just trying to contain the Blazers’ big men.  In the other scenario Greg Oden and Lamarcus Aldridge stand in the center court jump circle bent over with hands on their thighs, panting and cursing their inability to get beyond either three-point line before a shot goes up.  In that case the Blazers are done.

3. Whither the Morrow?

Golden State fans are excited.  It’s understandable, as Portland fans gush over Rudy Fernandez for scoring less than half of what that Morrow kid scored the other night.  Can he repeat or was this a perfect night played out in a Clipper-centric context?

Final Thoughts

In a certain sense this road trip doesn’t end tonight, as tomorrow’s game versus the Bulls, though technically at home, will feel like the sixth game of the extended swing.  However to end the official trip with a 4-1 record would be beyond amazing.  It’s not going to be easy though, especially for a team that was already showing signs of fatigue over the weekend.

The Warriors are a great test for the Blazers.  They’re a gateway team in the West.  They’re like a mid-level boss battle in your favorite video game.  You have to beat them in order to advance to your eventual goal but it may take a few tries.  You know you’ve started to master the game when the contest becomes easy.  Portland isn’t there yet.  The Barring a major roster overhaul the Warriors aren’t going anywhere, up or down, for a couple seasons.  These will be consistent barometer games for the Blazers.  Let’s see how we do tonight.

Read all about the Warriors at GoldenStateofMind.

Enter the Jersey Contest here.

--Dave (