Portland Trail Blazers (41-36) vs (68-8)
Sunday, April 3
Oracle Arena | 5:00 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder)| Golden State injury report: , Andre Iguodala (Doubtful - Ankle), Festus Ezeli (Doubtful - Knee)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
After impressive back-to-back victories over Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Portland Trail Blazers head to Oakland to take on the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Warriors are likely going to be out for blood after having their league record 54-game home winning streak snapped by the Boston Celtics on Friday night. Making matters even worse, the Warriors have yet to lose back-to-back games all season and are still battling for a league-record 73 wins.
While the Warriors have all but clinched the no. 1 overall seed for the entirety of the playoffs, the Blazers are still fighting for seeding in the bottom half of the west. They currently trail the Memphis Grizzleis by only 0.5 games for the fifth seed, and have a two-loss advantage over Dallas and Utah for the eighth seed.
Portland has succeeded in recent games despite poor play from Damian Lillard. The team's starting point guard has shot only 35.6 percent over the last 10 games and appears to badly need some extra rest. On the surface, tonight's game against a motivated 68-win team on the road with winnable matchups looming, would seem to be a perfect candidate. The recent wins over Miami and Boston have also given Portland breathing room over the lowest seeds in the playoff race, but Lillard has made it clear that the team has no intention of resting its players down the stretch.
On the other side of the ball, the Warriors are still awaiting the return of Andre Iguodala from an ankle injury and Festus Ezeli from knee surgery. Andrew Bogut is also questionable with a rib injury.
(Note: The following has been adapted from a previously published preview.)
Why have the Warriors been so good this year?
The Warriors' primary offense this season works because of two players: Steph Curry and Draymond 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.
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 among the league leaders in triple-doubles and earlier this season 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 39 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 forward. 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.
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. 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 fourth in defensive rating (100.7), first in opponent 3-point percentage (33.1 percent) and second in margin of victory (10.9).
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.
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.
Keys to the game
Stop Steph Curry: The most successful team at stopping the Warriors this season has beeny 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. 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 lead the league in scoring margin for both the first and third quarters. Their 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.