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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors Preview

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The Golden State Warriors are in town tonight. Can the Blazers hand the Warriors their third loss of the season?

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Portland Trail Blazers (15-23) vs Golden State Warriors (33-2)
Friday, January 8
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report
:
None | Golden State injury report: Steph Curry (Probable - Leg), James Michael McAdoo (Toe - Doubtful), Leandro Barbosa (Shoulder - Out), Festus Ezeli (Probable - Toe)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
|
Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers (15-23) continue a five game home stand tonight at the Moda Center. Their opponent: the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors (33-2).

After starting the season with a professional sports record 24 consecutive wins, more recent headlines around the Warriors have centered on injuries. On the positive side, Harrison Barnes will play his third consecutive game tonight after missing the previous 16 contests with a sprained ankle. Barnes is slowly being worked back into the lineup and will likely come off the bench tonight. But his reserve status should not suggest ineffectiveness - Barnes has looked solid since his return. He scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Warriors' 109-88 win over the Lakers on Tuesday.

Barnes' return has reunited two of the scariest five-man combinations in the NBA. Golden State's best two lineups over the last two seasons have been the regular starters (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut) and their "Small Ball Death Squad" (the starters, plus Andre Iguodala in place of Bogut). Those lineups are currently second and third in the NBA in net points despite appearing for less than 100 total minutes thus far this season.

As Barnes returned to the lineup, the Warriors' top player and reigning league MVP Steph Curry headed to the bench. Curry has been nursing a left shin contusion that caused him to sit out the last two games of 2015. He attempted to play through the injury on Tuesday but ultimately left the game in the third quarter. ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports that it may take up to four weeks for the injury to fully heal, but Curry will continue to try to play through the pain.

The Warriors' usually deep bench has also been disrupted by recent injuries. Reserve center Festus Ezeli is day-to-day with an injured toe. James Michael McAdoo (toe) and Leandro Barbosa (shoulder) have both been ruled out for tonight's game.

Why have the Warriors been so good this year?

The Warriors' primary offense this season works because of two players: Curry and Green. The skills of Green and Curry combine with the motion offense instituted by coach Steve Kerr last season to result in a controlled chaos that almost always creates a scoring chance. The players are constantly moving and looking for any open space on the court to exploit.

Curry was basically designed in a lab to take advantage of the current NBA defensive rules. He is the best shooter in the league, with one of the quickest releases ever seen; a top-2 ball handler; and a top-5 passer. Just stopping him from scoring is a Herculean task. To make matters worse, stopping Curry often requires so much defensive attention that it allows him to find one of his always moving teammates for a score (be sure to head over to Golden State of Mind for the breakdown of this play):

If the defense does manage to get the ball out of Curry's hands and prevent an assist he will likely find hybrid point forward Green. Green is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, and is currently slated to be a starter in the All-Star game per the recently released fan voting updates. He also leads the NBA with seven triple-doubles and last week became only the fourth player to record three consecutive triple-doubles.

For a power forward, Green is ultraskilled and can operate very effectively from the perimeter. He is a great ballhandler, shoots 42 percent from three, and is an excellent passer. His skillset creates matchup problems for the offense when they send their power forward out to guard him because Green can easily dribble around most other forwards (credit to GSoM again):

His presence on the perimeter also creates great spacing by both drawing out his own man to the perimeter and garnering attention from opposing guards. This helps his teammates get open, who Green then finds with his passing ability:

Green's effectiveness on offense has recently been criticized with the assertion that he is merely a "system player." He had an excellent reply to the critique:

Completing the Warriors' effectiveness on offense is a cadre of shooters and slashers who can exploit the open space created by Green and Curry. Klay Thompson, a former All-Star in his own right, is a dangerous shooter who is always a threat to explode for a 20-point quarter. Barnes, another great shooter, creates matchup problems with his relative quickness and range for a power forward. Iguodala is a physical slasher who can step in and handle playmaking duties as needed. Even backup point guard Shaun Livingston has shredded smaller opposing guards with his size and versatility this season.

The Warriors' offense has been so spectacular this season that it has often distracted from their excellent defense. Golden State is third in defensive rating (98.1), third in opponent 3-point percentage (31.6 percent) and second in margin of victory (14.2).

Their effectiveness on defense is similar to their effectiveness on offense - many of their rotation players are long, versatile, and agile, allowing them to switch at will. When they play their optimal smallball lineup, Barnes, Iguodala, Thompson, and Green are all athletic and long enough to switch onto almost any player on the court. Being able to swap assignments on virtually every screen stagnates offenses and can disrupt efforts to maintain good spacing. For example, any of the four players just mentioned can effectively cover the point guard out of a switch on a pick-and-roll. This helps cover Curry's defensive shortcomings:

If the other team does play a traditional center then the Warriors can also use Bogut. The Australian is an excellent low-post defender and rim protector. Bogut has meshed perfectly with the Warriors' perimeter defense by patrolling the restricted area and deterring drives or altering shots when an opposing guard does break down and get past the first wave. It's no surprise that Bogut joined Green on last year's All-NBA Defensive Team.

The Warriors' constant screening has an ancillary bonus: despite their frenetic pace, they average a league low speed of 3.68 miles per hour on defense. It seems that their ability to regularly swap defensive assignments actually allows them to move less on defense, which means they presumably have even more energy to spend on offense. Watch this clip and note how little the defensive players move, yet are able to keep the offense under wraps:

Keys to the game

Stop Steph Curry: The most successful team at stopping the Warriors this season was probably the Celtics who used very physical single coverage from Avery Bradley to hound Curry and keep him from getting clear for open shots off screens. Curry still scored 38 points, but he was only 9-27 from the field. Here's the caveat: the Warriors still won that game. The Blazers will need to find someone on the roster who can use his body to harass Curry on the perimeter and try to keep him from getting into a groove.

Use timeouts liberally: The chaos that the Warriors create both offensively and defensively, combined with their excellent shooting, has a tendency to snowball into huge scoring runs. There's nothing more exciting for a Golden State fan, and nothing more disheartening for an opposing fan, than watching three quarters of close play get thrown away with a 14-2 run in two and a half minutes. If the Warriors hit even two consecutive threes without a response from the Blazers, Stotts should consider immediately calling timeout to disrupt the momentum. There's no point in having timeouts at the end if you already lost the game 20 minutes ago.

Win the first and third quarter: The Warriors generally start strong in the first and third quarters. They lead the league in scoring margin for both the first (+5.7) and third quarters (+5.2). For context, only one other team (San Antonio) outscores its opponents by more than 2.9 points in ANY quarter. The Warriors' early blitzes often sink opponents for the rest of the game. The Blazers must stay with the Warriors at the beginning of each half to have a chance tonight.

Notes:

The Blazers lead the all-time series between these teams 120-94. Portland has dominated at home, and has a 79-27 all-time advantage.

Curry and Thompson are one of only two duos averaging more points than Lillard and C.J. McCollum this season.

The Warriors won the inaugural NBA (then BAA) championship in 1947 as the Philadelphia Warriors. At the time, "Warriors" was a reference to Native Americans and their logo was less than-PC. The team has since rebranded multiple times and the original, probably insensitive, inspiration for the team's mascot has been abandoned in favor of something more generic.

Gerald Henderson's dad, Gerald Henderson Sr., and James Michael McAdoo's second uncle, Bob McAdoo, faced off as members of the Celtics and Lakers, respectively, in the 1984 NBA Finals. The Celtics won the series in seven games.

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