The Blazers will play the second game of a back-to-back tonight, meeting up with the Golden State Warriors in Oracle Arena.
The last time these two teams met in late November, fisticuffs almost ensued after Warriors center Andrew Bogut landed an elbow on Portland big man Joel Freeland's jaw with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. Down 79-71 at the time of the scuffle, the Blazers rallied behind a dominant performance by power forward LaMarcus Aldridge down the stretch, escaping the Bay Area with a hard-fought 113-101 victory that featured the ejections of guards Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams.
The Warriors haven't forgotten the early season skirmish, and will be poised for the Blazers at home after going down to the Timberwolves Friday night, 121-120.
Golden State reeled off 10-straight victories between the third week of December and the first week of the new year. Following that impressive stretch, though, the Warriors coughed up five of their next seven games and now sit at 26-18, good for the sixth playoff slot in the Western Conference.
Golden State guard Stephen Curry has proven lately why he was selected to his first All-Star game as a starter this past week, pouring in 29.2 points and 10 assists on 49 percent shooting from the field and just under 40 percent from three-point range his last five games. Over that stretch, Curry has been attempting 20 shots a night, over 10 of them coming from deep. Curry can also score at the hoop -- he draws over six fouls a game -- and is very accurate in the mid-range, essentially a threat at all times with the ball because he can set up for both himself and his teammates.
Warriors forward David Lee is also enjoying a solid stretch of individual play right now, also making about half his shots and scoring over 21 points per contest the last several games. Lee doesn't stray far from the hoop with his field-goal attempts, a safe bet due to his reliability in close proximity to the rim on offense. The last time he matched up with the Blazers, Lee was held to 15 points, only attempting two free-throws and 13 overall shots. Expect a more aggressive Lee tonight, as he's since upped his field-goal attempts and maintained his efficiency.
Third-year guard Klay Thompson is the third main piece to Golden State coach Mark Jackson's offensive attack, putting in 18 points a game recently on just over 15 shots. Like Curry, Thompson hoists a ton of shots from deep, converting on an impressive 45.7 percent of them his last five games. Thompson isn't afraid to take it to the hole, where he's a reliable finisher, but he does most of his damage either in the mid-range or from beyond the arc.
The rest of the Warriors' offensive output is spread somewhat evenly between the next six players in Jackson's strict nine-man rotation. Wing Andre Iguodala isn't really looking for his shot much right now, and he's not converting well when he does. His field-goal percentage is hovering around 36 percent and he's even worse from downtown as of late, hitting under 15 percent of his long-range tries. Iguodala's backup, Harrison Barnes, is playing almost as poorly on offense, currently missing three-quarters of his shots.
Bogut is almost a lock to score when he shoots close to the hoop, but he can also count on one hand the amount of field-goals he tries every night. Power Forward Marreese Speights is also a decent scorer, but like Bogut, his shots are limited. Newcomer guard Jordan Crawford has made his presence felt with 44.4 percent shooting from outside since he landed in Golden State following a midseason trade, and forward Draymond Green isn't a bad scorer either in limited attempts.
All things considered, the offense for Golden State is rolling along pretty well right now. The problem for this team -- even though they started the season with a solid defensive identity -- is its inability to prevent opposing teams from scoring recently.
Over their last 10 games, the Warriors have allowed the opposition to register averages of 103.5 points per contest on 46.4 percent shooting from the field, supplemented with almost 24 trips to the free-throw line. Even with the explosive offensive outputs from Curry, Lee and Thompson the last few weeks, Golden State hasn't really managed to prevent the opposition from reciprocating, thrice giving up 121 points or more in the last five games.
The Warriors are decent at stopping teams from scoring inside, but Portland's been scoring a ton of points in the paint recently after a slow start to the season scoring at the rim. Lee isn't known for his defensive prowess, and while effective, Bogut is not impossible to score on down low, either. Unless Golden State shakes off the cobwebs tonight and reverses current trends, Blazers coach Terry Stotts should be able to find ways to manufacture points against this weakened Warriors defense.
Aldridge's impressive offensive streak has continued for several weeks, as he's hitting almost half his two-dozen shot attempts a night and drawing almost nine fouls. In the last meeting of these two teams, Aldridge lit up Golden State for 30 points on 16-19 shooting. While it's probably a bit unrealistic to expect a duplicate performance tonight, there's no reason to think the Warriors frontcourt will slow him down, either. If the double-team is brought, Aldridge has shown the ability to kick it out, initiating a chain-reaction that often finds opposing defenses stumbling to keep up with Portland's efficient ball-movement and usually ends with a solid outside-look for one of the Blazers' perimeter shooters.
Portland point guard Damian Lillard might not be slumping right now, but his numbers the last couple weeks are certainly down since he kicked off this season as an offensive juggernaut, particularly from deep. He's still shooting below 40 percent from the field and is ice-cold from beyond the arc, cashing in on only 22.2 percent of his three-point attempts his last five games. Lillard didn't shoot well against the Warriors last time they played, missing 14 of his 20 shots. Will tonight be the game he rights the ship in front of his hometown crowd?
Lillard's backcourt mate Mo Williams has upped his play recently, trailing only guard C.J. McCollum in three-point shooting percentage for the team lately with a 44.4 percent clip. McCollum leads Portland from outside with 45.5 percent shooting, effectively pushing wing Dorell Wright out of Stotts' playing rotation entirely, for the time being.
Matthews' production from the perimeter has waned lately, with forward Nicolas Batum also struggling from downtown. Both have been shooting about 47 percent from the field the last several games, though, and Batum remains an integral part of Portland's scoring attack with his ability to swing the ball and find the open man. Against the Wolves last night, Batum looked for his own shot early and collapsed Minnesota's defense with his assertiveness in getting to the hoop.
Like the last couple games, offense will likely win the day in this match-up. Both teams tonight are slipping defensively as of late, and both the Warriors and Blazers have weapons on the offensive end that can make a struggling defense pay. If the playoffs started today, Golden State and Portland would face each other in the first round. Expect to see a playoff-like atmosphere tonight as two of the league's most explosive offenses meet up in one of the West's most hostile environments.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter