The Blazers have a chance to clinch at least the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings when the No. 6 Golden State Warriors visit the Moda Center tonight.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson has been forced to tinker with his lineups lately due to injury; Forwards Andre Iguodala and David Lee, along with center Jermaine O'Neal, have all sat out recent games with various ailments. Jackson has recently opted to start small forward Draymond Green next to center Andrew Bogut in the frontcourt, alongside Iguodala with the Splash Bros. -- guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson -- in the backcourt.
This small-ball lineup has allowed Jackson to start two of the NBA's best perimeter defenders in Green and Iguodala (according to ESPN's recently unveiled "real plus-minus" statistic) with Bogut, one of the league's elite rim-defenders. Unfortunately for Golden State, this defensive-minded starting lineup only lasted two games before Iguodala had to miss a win over the Lakers Friday night with knee tendinitis. He looks to be available for tonight's game against the Blazers, though, along with frontcourt mates Lee and O'Neal. With forward Harrison Barnes underperforming in Iguodala's absence, don't be surprised to see Jackson start the game with Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Bogut.
In the last five games -- with the list of available players in a state of flux -- the Warriors have hit 48 percent of their field-goals and almost 41 percent of their three-pointers, both top-10 numbers in the league. They're capable of scoring on the fast break and feature some of the best passing in the NBA. On the flip side, Golden State struggles with turnovers and over the last five games, they've attempted fewer than a dozen free-throws a night, easily the lowest total in the league for that span of time.
The Warriors' defense lately has been pretty solid, but they've also beaten up on the Jazz, Lakers and Kings the last five games -- the three worst teams in the Western Conference -- and they dropped a game to the 35-44 Nuggets Thursday night, making it difficult to get an accurate feel for how this unit has played defensively. For the season, Golden State has been a top-4 team in both opposing field-goal and three-point percentages while shutting down the paint and the passing lanes. The Warriors are about average at forcing turnovers, defending in transition and putting opponents at the free-throw line.
In three games so far this season, Curry has shredded the Blazers' defense, averaging 32.3 points, 47.1 percent field-goal shooting, 44.8 percent three-point shooting and eight assists on about 23 shots, almost 10 of them coming from long-range. In his last five games, Curry's maintained similar shooting numbers but has shot about six fewer times a night, averaging 21.8 points on 16.8 attempts. One of the best scorers in the league, expect Curry to go hard at Portland's flimsy perimeter defense again tonight.
Thompson, the other Splash Bro, is shooting even better than Curry the last five games, hitting over 51 percent of his shots and 60.7 percent of his threes for 21.2 points a night. He's a pretty good finisher inside and a decent mid-range shooter, but Thompson's outside shooting is special, particularly from the corners. Against the Blazers this year -- like Curry -- he's ratcheted up his scoring, averaging 24.7 points in three meetings.
Backup forward Marreese Speights has just about doubled his season-long offensive contributions the last couple weeks, shooting almost a dozen times a night in that span and scoring over 13 points on 53.6 percent shooting. He's a potent scorer inside, often stepping out to the mid-range where he's not as good of a shooter. Fellow backup Jordan Crawford, guard, gets up as many shots as Speights in limited minutes but has been as inefficient as ever the last handful of games, making under 37 percent of his shots and 32 percent of his threes.
Forward Harrison Barnes has continued his disappointing sophomore campaign, making 44 percent of his shots and under 30 percent of his threes in about 30 minutes a night the last five outings. Lee's played in one game the last eight, scoring 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting Friday night against the Lakers. When playing Portland this year, Lee's made about half his shots en route to 16 points a game.
In what's been about a 10-man rotation -- depending on the health of several players, mainly Iguodala, Lee and Bogut -- Jackson's been able to squeeze some decent contributions from secondary scorers. Green's hit almost half his shots and 42 percent of his threes the last five games, O'Neal's made 61 percent of his shots, Iguodala half his, Bogut 70 percent and point guard Steve Blake has made 40 percent of his threes. Considered tertiary scorers for Golden State, not one of them has averaged more than 7.6 field-goal attempts or 8.4 points a game the last five.
Portland's been fairly average shooting the ball recently, making 46.6 percent of its field-goals and 35.9 percent of its threes. In that span, the Blazers have passed the ball well, also getting to the free-throw line often. Turnovers have been a problem recently, but they only committed eight against the Jazz Friday night.
The defense for Portland has been solid the last several games, but they've feasted on some weak offensive teams in that span. Still, the Blazers have held opponents to 43.1 percent shooting the last five games, one of the better numbers in the league. They've been average at defending the three-point line and with putting other teams at the free-throw line, also not forcing many turnovers.
Guard Damian Lillard's made only about a third of his shots and a quarter of his threes against the Warriors this year, numbers well below his season averages. His last five games, though, he's made about 45 percent of both his field-goals and three-pointers, good for 20.8 points a night to go along with more than seven assists.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge has not been able to shoot the ball well in two games against Golden State this season, making just 25.7 percent of his shots. Free-throws have saved his numbers, as he attempted 19 against the Warriors in a late-November matchup that led to a Portland win. Aldridge has shot the ball pretty well lately, making over 47 percent of his shots the last five games while scoring almost 23 points a night.
Wings Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum apparently like going against Golden State -- regardless of the Warriors' hyped perimeter defense -- both making about half their shots and half their three-pointers in three matchups this year. Backup forward Dorell Wright has similar numbers against the team he spent two seasons with, including 2010-11 when he led the league in three-pointers attempted and made.
Sixth man Mo Williams has made just 29.7 percent of his shots the last couple weeks, and those shooting woes are likely to scontinue against a Golden State squad that has limited him to 34.6 percent shooting this year in three meetings. Center Robin Lopez has fared much better of late, putting down over 58 percent of his shots for over 11 points a game the last five.
Portland coach Terry Stotts has settled into a nine-man rotation with big man Joel Freeland still nursing a knee injury, with wing Will Barton and forward Thomas Robinson picking up between 10 and 15 minutes a night. Barton had a nice 3-for-4 outing against the Jazz Friday night, scoring eight points. Robinson also scored eight, going 4-for-6 from the field.
Golden State is a good defensive rebounding team but is average on the other end of the glass, the opposite holding true for the Blazers. Bogut, O'Neal, Speights and Lee have gobbled up rebounds for the Warriors lately as they've fairly convincingly beaten opposing teams on the boards. Meanwhile, Aldridge, Lopez, Robinson and Batum have performed well for Portland recently on the glass, though they've had a less impressive rebounding differential than Golden State. In three games against each other this season, the Blazers have averaged 49.7 rebounds -- including a dozen of the offensive variety -- while the Warriors have averaged 44.3 boards. Keep an eye on missed shots underneath Portland's basket, as that's where both teams typically do their best rebounding work.
If this season's history between the Blazers and Golden State holds true, it'll be no surprise to see both Curry and Thompson go off from the Warriors' backcourt. Lillard and Aldridge have both struggled against this Golden State squad, but Matthews, Batum and Wright have stepped up in one way or another.
Both teams have already clinched playoff berths, with Portland's sights now set on maintaining their fifth seed or even moving up a spot to No. 4 in the West, as they're trailing the Rockets by a game and could still leapfrog Houston if everything goes the Blazers' way the last two games of the regular season. Similarly, the Warriors could snatch Portland's No. 5 seed if they win out their last three games of the year, starting with a pivotal matchup with the Blazers. Expect a physical, playoff-like atmosphere with plenty of three-pointers when these two teams meet up tonight for the fourth and final time this season.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
P.S. Please welcome new contributor Sagar Trika to Blazer's Edge. A local high-schooler who's blogged about the Blazers for the last couple seasons, his first order of business here was transcribing the post-game interviews from the Blazers' win over the Jazz Friday night.