The Blazers return home tonight to take on the Golden State Warriors in the Moda Center, following a 1-4 road trip that ended with a much-needed win in New Orleans Friday night against the Pelicans.
The Warriors are among the hottest teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, sporting a 10-4 record in that timespan and seeing an impressive streak of play by guard Klay Thompson. Golden State did lose to the Cavaliers -- a 26-40 team that is struggling to put themselves in the playoff picture out East -- a couple nights ago, but that was without Thompson, who missed the game for personal reasons but is expected to be back for tonight's matchup with Portland.
Over the last five games, the Warriors have averaged almost 105 points a night, though they scored 94 and 98 points in back-to-back losses last week against the Clippers and Cavaliers, respectively. Golden State moves the ball pretty well, led by almost eight assists a night from starting point guard Steph Curry, and they get up a lot of three-pointers, a shot they're hitting at a 40.5 percent clip the last handful of outings. Golden State is a little turnover-prone at times, though they don't give up a lot of points in transition.
Curry has attempted almost 18 shots a night for the season, but with the recent surge of offense from Thompson, the first-time All-Star has deferred more often, attempting about four fewer shots per game than his season average the last couple weeks. Curry is capable of creating his own offense with the ball, excelling at pull-up jumpers in the mid-range and able to attack the rim and finish, as well. About half his shots are threes, and he's knocked down about 41 percent of them this season, though he's slipped to just below 35 percent on his three-pointers the last five games. Nevertheless, Curry went 5-10 from outside Friday night against Cleveland, pouring in 27 points in Thompson's absence.
Thompson has been absolutely lights-out from the field the last couple weeks. As a 43.8 percent shooter overall and 41.2 percent shooter from deep this year, he was already an efficient player, sprinkling in shots from all over the court. Lately, though, Thompson has been shooting out of his mind, hitting over 55 percent of his field-goals and an astonishing 71.4 percent of his threes. Could this be due to a small sample size? Not really; Thompson has averaged over a dozen shots a game over the Warriors' last five, 3.5 of them coming from outside. Allowing him any breathing room near the perimeter tonight would be a huge mistake for the Blazers.
Power forward David Lee is actually leading Golden State in shot-attempts the last few weeks, averaging almost 14 a game. Though one might think Warriors coach Mark Jackson would prefer Curry or Thompson taking the majority of the team's shots, Lee has been rather crafty down low as of late, making over 58 percent of all his shots, almost all of them coming from within 10 feet of the hoop. He also picks up 2.6 assists a game, a decent number for a big man that shows his ability to find open teammates.
There is a tier below the Curry-Thompson-Lee trio offensively for the Warriors, as the individual shot-attempts drop off pretty dramatically for the team after those three. Backup wings Jordan Crawford, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes come off the bench, getting up about 6-8 shots a piece to varying degrees of success. Crawford drives to the hoop often and gets a high volume of shots up in his 14 minutes a night, making about 45 percent of them and is a decent outside shooter. Green makes about half his attempts and has made over 47 percent of his threes the last five games. Barnes, normally a reliable scorer, plays the fourth-most minutes on the team but is currently sub-40 percent from the field and can't buy a three-pointer right now, making only 18.2 percent of his outside attempts.
Forward Andre Iguodala scores a lot of his points on the fastbreak, but takes somewhat more of a facilitating role in the offense, otherwise. Even so, he's making over half of all his attempts the last five games, including those taken from outside. Iguodala also picks up almost 5 assists a game, an effective distributor. Center Andrew Bogut doesn't take many shots, but when he does, he converts them at a 73.1 percent rate, his scoring coming exclusively in the paint. Center Jermaine O'Neal and backup point guard Steve Blake also get a handful of shots in Jackson's offense, though neither is playing well at the moment, both converting on fewer than 40 percent of their field-goals with Blake making less than a third of his threes.
The Warriors play an effective brand of defense, giving up only 45.5 percent shooting for opponents the last five contests while allowing 36.3 percent on three-pointers over the same span. Golden State forces about 15 turnovers a game, is pretty good at slowing ball movement and average at putting opponents at the free-throw line. Scoring on them in the paint can be difficult, though to be fair, the Warriors are pretty solid at defending every part of the floor. As Blazer's Edge contributor Dane Carbaugh pointed out in a recent piece for SB Nation, a large portion of the defensive success for Golden State can be attributed to Iguodala's stellar on-ball defense.
Portland comes into this game still missing important backup big Joel Freeland, All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and sixth-man Mo Williams. Regardless of injuries to key players, the Blazers were able to regroup in New Orleans and dispatched the Pelicans with forward Dorell Wright replacing Aldridge in the starting lineup and extended minutes for guards Earl Watson, C.J. McCollum and Will Barton off the bench. Over the last five games, Portland wasn't able to move the ball effectively, turned the ball over often, made only 42.7 percent of its shots and only a third of the three-pointers attempted. Against the Pelicans and with a depleted lineup, those numbers spiked to almost 49 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from deep to go along with 27 free-throws drawn and 111 total points.
Point guard Damian Lillard was a huge part of the Blazers' success Friday night, as could be expected. He's made about 42 percent of his shots lately, along with 38.2 percent of his threes for an average of 22.6 points. Two nights ago, Lillard went 8-17 from the floor, 3-8 from deep and attempted 10 fouls shots, making eight of them while registering five assists. Clearly, Portland will need his offensive output tonight because there's not a lot of scoring power for Blazers coach Terry Stotts outside of the starting lineup.
Wings Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews both upped their aggression with Freeland, Aldridge and Williams on the bench, going a combined 14-29 from the floor and 7-16 from long-range for 22 and 20 points, respectively. Keep an eye on them around the perimeter tonight, because Golden State really tries to limit the amount of three-pointers attempted by the other team, and they've been one of the NBA's best squads at doing so this year.
In a welcomed burst of offense, center Robin Lopez hit 9-13 of his shots Friday night, putting in 19 points. He's sometimes an afterthought in Stotts' offense, but he responded well to getting his number called more often a couple nights ago and has been hitting over half his attempts, many of them coming off pick-and-roll action with Lillard or Batum and a formidable chunk of his offense coming off of put-backs he earns with his rebounding acumen on the offensive end. Wright, playing a stretch-four role that seems to suit him pretty well, also responded in a big way to extended minutes and shots Friday night, hitting 4-6 threes and scoring 15 points of his own. Lee might have the advantage in the key against Wright when the Warriors have the ball, but it goes both ways, as he'll have a hard time checking Wright around the arc tonight.
Stotts often opted to surround Lopez with four capable shooters last game, playing backup forward Thomas Robinson and center Meyers Leonard only seven minutes a piece. If Lopez stays out of foul trouble, don't be surprised to see much the same tonight unless either happens to get hot from the field. Watson is a solid facilitating point guard, averaging three assists in fewer than a dozen minutes the last couple times he's been called into action as the team's third-string point guard. Barton went 1-7 against the Pelicans, but he's usually a much more accurate scorer and could bounce back tonight, as he's hit 45 percent of his shots on the year. McCollum looked for his own shot less often than normal in his 12 minutes last game, and he's been slumping as of late, hitting less than 30 percent of his field-goals. Forward Victor Claver remained unused last game, though he could see some court time tonight if Wright's play drops off or if Robinson struggles with the minutes he's given.
Portland's defense has been mediocre lately for the most part, allowing over 107 points a game in the last five. They're average at defending both the three-point line and the floor overall, which will almost certainly be an issue against this Warriors squad that has legit scorers in the post, wings capable of slashing to the hole with success and some of the best jump-shooting in the league. Golden State's starters are almost assuredly going to score a large handful of points against a struggling Blazers defense, but limiting the Warriors' bench unit to minimal scoring is a more accomplishable task and would go a long way toward slowing them down.
Bogut, O'neal and Lee are all great individual rebounders, O'neal excelling at the offensive end in limited time while the other two are more effective on the defensive glass. As a whole, Golden State is fairly average at offensive rebounding but a top-five team on the other end. Robinson and Leonard pick up a high percentage of available boards, but both play limited minutes. Lopez hasn't quite been his normal self on the boards lately, struggling to reach his season average of 8.5 rebounds a game in his last five. Fortunately for the Blazers, Batum has gone bonkers on the glass, leading the team with over 11 a night the last couple weeks. No player from the Warriors' wing positions rebounds as well as Batum, so he could be primed for yet another big night.
Taking down Golden State tonight will be a huge challenge for Portland, but the Blazers are a remarkable 5-1 with Aldridge out of the lineup and somehow find ways to fill in the cracks when short-handed. Still, the Warriors are peaking at the right time and will see the return of a scorching Thompson tonight. If Portland can rain threes like they did two nights ago and get more solid performances from the starters, this could be anyone's game. That is a tough task, however, against a surging Golden State team that is capable of shutting down opposing offenses when playing its best basketball at full-strength.
Expect the Warriors to come out trying to take care of a weakened Blazers team that sits just one slot ahead of them in the Western Conference in the No. 5 seed, two-and-a-half games up. Golden State would like to close that gap a little further tonight, but Portland has shown it won't give up playoff positioning without a fight.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter