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Portland Trailblazers vs. Golden State Warriors Preview

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White-hot Damian Lillard and the Blazers are focused on torching an all-time team and an all-time record in Oakland.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (34-31) at Golden State Warriors (57-6)
Friday, March 11
Oracle Arena | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: None | Golden State injury report: Festus Ezeli (Out Indefinitely - Knee Surgery)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind

It may seem strange that the historically-amazing Golden State Warriors could come into a game this season with a chip on their shoulders. Yet that very well may be the case tonight as they look to avenge their largest loss of the season against the Blazers in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Portland seems to be working on the antidote to the league's season-long fever-dream known colloquially as "The Dubs."  They are led by the active career leader in COSPG (Chips on Shoulder Per Game), Damian Lillard, who famously dropped an iceberg-sized chip on the Warriors' heads during a 137-105 drubbing in their last meeting on February 19. Fresh off being snubbed for the All-Star team, Lillard went for a career-best 51 points including 9-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.

He has since seemed driven to have a constellation named after him, as the Blazers have surged to the sixth-best record in the West. In his last 13 games, Lillard is averaging an astonishing 33.4 PPG on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor and 41.1 percent shooting from deep.

Yet there still might be room for a little extra motivation for him tonight: The reason Lillard wears his number 0 is in large part an homage to his hometown, where this game happens to be taking place.

O yeah, folks. Your Friday night plans are set.

Historically Historic Rule-Changers

You may have heard that the Warriors are the current possessors of the highest single-season winning percentage (.905) and the longest home-winning streak (46 games and counting) in NBA history. They’ve had a pretty okay season from an offensive standpoint, leading the league in points per game, offensive rating, field goals, assists, assist percentage, assist/TO ratio, effective field goal percentage, total shooting percentage, fastbreak points, mouths left agape, heads shaken in awe and/or disbelief, tsunamis of pain, spirits broken, 3-pointers, and 3-point shooting percentage.

Golden State should comfortably break the record for most 3-pointers in a season. Even after a 4-for-30 performance from downtown during an embarrassing loss to the Lakers on Sunday, they are shooting 41.4 percent from distance on the season. The only team that has ever had a higher hit rate from deep was the 96-97 Hornets, and they had the benefit of shooting a full foot closer above the break during an ill-advised rule change. By the end of the season, Golden State will have taken roughly twice as many threes as that Charlotte team, while continuing to raise clatter that the 3-point line should be moved again: this time, even further back.

Good luck with all that, as you can see from the chart below which shows Krypton native Stephen Curry’s success rates from various distances:

That’s right: his shooting efficiency actually INCREASES with greater distance from the hoop, ostensibly since he can get a cleaner look.

About 20 percent of ALL of his shots of any kind already come from more than two feet behind the current line. Change the distance and you might just be creating more distance between the Warriors and everyone else.

Their defense is pretty good too. The raw numbers don’t always look impressive because of the breakneck pace they play at which allows the opposition plenty of opportunity for numbers accumulation, yet they still allow the fourth-fewest field goals, the fourth-fewest threes, have the fourth-most blocks, and allow the lowest 3-point percentage.

What the Blazers need to do to Win

The Rain Bros need to be as wet as the Splash Brothers: Apart from getting lucky and catching the Dubs on an off-night, conventional wisdom for much of the past two seasons claimed that you shouldn’t try to keep up with the Warriors’ pace, but instead establish your own pace and try to slow them down. Yeah, that doesn’t really seem to work too often.

Even if they let you hang around into the third or fourth quarter, allowing you to grow giddy with visions of grandeur and triumph, they generally eventually lay this act on you:

Yep, maniacal smiling to a pile of shouldering, insensate bones in about a minute. Better off keeping your eyes closed and hoping.

People have started to take notice that the Blazers are as well-equipped as anyone to play this otherworldly spaceman basketball. Like the Dubs, Portland’s two top scorers are equally as comfortable on- or off-ball, can create for themselves and others, and can fire away off the bounce from anywhere.

In Lillard’s 13-game tear mentioned above, he has hit 4.1 threes per game — second only to Curry in that span. During the same time frame, CJ McCollum has hit paydirt on 48.5 percent of his threes, second only to J.J. Redick. On the season, McCollum has hit 41.1 percent of his threes, which is the ninth-best rate among qualifiers, which sounds pretty alright for a first-year starter. Yet when you narrow it down to shooters who have at least 250 three-point attempts (CJ has 375), he is third in percentage behind only Redick and Curry. I will now take the liberty of coloring all doubters and the Know-Nothing party as impressed.

In their last matchup, Portland matched and actually surpassed the Warriors’ pace thanks to their dynamic duo. It would be no surprise if Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala are sent to get physical with the Blazers’ guards and pressure them beyond the arc in an effort to disrupt the rhythm and flow of the offense. Yet, they don’t have to do it all on their own—it’s largely up to the bigs to…

Punish Golden State’s small lineup: When the Warriors run out their "Lineup of Death," where 6-foot-7 triple-double machine Draymond Green plays center, other teams don’t really seem to know what to do. Opposing bigs get circles run around them, or find themselves out of position on the boards as their team furiously jacks up shots to keep up with the latest Curry scoring flurry.

Yet the Blazers’ athletic bigs give them an advantage most other teams don’t have. Festus Ezeli’s injury actually is pretty big in this matchup, as the Warriors don’t really have any other frontcourt players who can easily keep tabs on the likes of Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, and Maurice Harkless—who combined for 32 points in the first three quarters in the Feb 19th matchup. They were active on dives and pops off of penetration, and Lillard and McCollum found them early and often: Plumlee had seven points and three assists in the opening quarter last time, while Harkless dominated the third with seven points and four boards.

Most importantly, the Blazers stopped Warriors possessions cold with great rebounding, led by Ed Davis’ eight boards in just 15 minutes. Add in Meyers Leonard, who has gotten some mojo back (8.7 PPG, 6.3 REB, 50 percent 3PT in last seven games, yeah baby yeah), and a good ensemble effort from the frontcourt could take the roar out of ‘Roaracle.'

Be disruptive on defense: The turning point of the last matchup was the third quarter, when laser-like intensity on defense forced the Warriors into an astounding 13 turnovers, taking them completely out of their game. The key was that the Blazers took some chances here, with some unorthodox timings on traps and doubles and lots of ball-hawking — all of which is a little out of character for a Terry Stotts team. The Blazers will have to pick their spots, and it will take some guessing on when Curry or Klay Thompson are about to put up their hair-trigger shots, but it’s probably worth it when you’re right: Although the Warriors lead the league in 3-point percentage when a defender is within 2 feet, that mark still brings them down to 35 percent—or in other words, league average.

Outlook

The Blazers shocked the Warriors once, but they will have to be nigh-perfect in order to topple an all-time team for the second time—and be the first to beat them in Oakland since last January. Either way, being respected and feared by the opposing fan base at this point in both teams’ development arcs is pretty cool. But you know that with Lillard leading the charge, the Blazers will never be just ‘happy to be here.'