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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors Game 1 Preview

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Damian Lillard and the rest of the Portland Trail Blazers continue their miraculous run through the 2016 NBA playoffs and begin their Western Conference semifinals matchup with the Golden State Warriors today, who will be without superstar guard Steph Curry due to a knee injury.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday, May 1
Oracle Arena | 12:30 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: ABC; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | Golden State injury report: Steph Curry (Out - Knee)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind

The one-eyed Austin Rivers heaved up the halfcourt shot as time expired. Through his blurry vision, he thought it was in. The ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net, but luckily it did not go through the rim first. The Blazers had let the short-handed Clippers hang around all night, leaving their fate up to a last-second prayer that fell just short. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers ended in a 106-103 Blazer victory.

It was not a pretty game. In all honesty, the series as a whole was hardly anything you want to DVR. Injuries in Game 4 to the Clippers' two best players, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, decimated their chances. The Blazers hardly looked overwhelming against what was left. After the injuries, Portland entered a strange position of becoming the favorite to win the series after previously being down 0-2. The remaining Clippers fought hard but the Trail Blazers were too much and ended up taking care of business, winning the next four games in a row. When you do that in the playoffs, you guarantee yourself a ticket to the next round. They found success in their role as favorites, but the Blazers can't get used to that feeling - Today they enter the second round against the defending NBA champions and record-setting, 73-win Golden State Warriors.

I imagine that I would not be the first to tell you that at full strength, the Warriors are a very good team. Their offense, especially, is historically good. Golden State scored more points in the 2015-16 regular season than any other team has in 14 years. They were No. 10 all-time in offensive efficiency rating as well as in total assists, according to basketball-reference.com. Their offense is based on constant player and ball movement and an incredible ability to use screens. Oh, and they really like to shoot threes too (perhaps the understatement of the year).

This regular season, the Warriors broke their own records set last year in 3-pointers taken and made. Golden State actually made more 3-pointers during the regular season than all but 44 teams in NBA history have taken in a single season.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Warriors enter the second round after a 4-1 series win over the Houston Rockets. Although they won the matchup with relative ease, they did experience difficulty. Not so much from the Rockets, who seemed to take a few preemptive vacation days, but in the form of injury to the reigning league MVP Stephen Curry.

Curry tweaked his ankle in Game 1 of the first round and missed Games 2 and 3. He was able to return to action in the fourth contest but on the last play before half, he slid awkwardly on a wet spot and had to leave due to a knee injury. An MRI later revealed no structural damage, but he did have an MCL sprain that would require reevaluation two weeks from the injury. On that timetable, Curry will probably miss the first three or four games of the conference semifinals against the Blazers.

The Warriors are a very complete basketball team. They have depth, great chemistry and talent, but losing Curry is a huge blow to their team. He won the NBA's MVP award last year and still finished fourth in the Most Improved Player award voting this year. Curry led the league with 30.1 points per game, while shooting 50.4 percent on field goals, 45.4 percent on 3-pointers (11.2 attempts per game) and 90.8 percent on free throws. He also led the NBA in steals with 2.1 per contest and was No. 10 in the NBA in assists per game with 6.7.

In other words, that's a lot of efficient production missing from Golden State's lineup for at least a few games.

Even without Curry, the Warriors are still a very talented, complete, well-coached team and will be considered the favorites against the Blazers. Along with having the presumed 2016 NBA MVP in Curry, Golden State also sports 2016 NBA Coach of the Year award winner Steve Kerr on the bench, who narrowly defeated Portland coach Terry Stotts for the honors (pan to Blazer fans shaking their heads in disagreement). Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season due to back pain after offseason surgery.

Forward Draymond Green was also a runner-up for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award. His ability to guard all five positions has made him an invaluable piece to the Warriors' defense. He will more than likely start on Al Farouq-Aminu, but Golden State generally switches on almost every screen, depending on who is on the court, so he could find himself guarding any Blazer at any time.

Key Matchups

Damian Lillard struggled with Chris Paul before his injury in the first round of the playoffs, and the the Clippers' traps defensively gave him problems early in the series. The Warriors will probably trap as well, or scheme something for the Blazers guards.

With legions of long athletic defenders, Golden State is able to switch most on-ball screens. And with Curry out, the 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston will be be starting at point guard and may be matched up on Lillard. It will always be a team effort to guard a player as good as Lillard, but the Warriors have a lot of options on him. On the other end of the court, Livingston has no 3-point shot, but is strong off the drive and is great at moving without the ball, earning himself a lot of easy baskets.

With his superstar backcourt mate out, Klay Thompson will be looking to attack. Curry may be the best shooter in the league, but the second best may be his Splash Brother.

Thompson is a very difficult matchup for anyone. He is sometimes used similarly to how the Clippers use J.J Redick - constantly moving and using screens to get his shot off. The difference between Thompson and Redick, however, is that Thompson is an upgrade in pretty much every way. He is bigger and more capable of creating his own offense. In the final two games against the Rockets in the first round, Thompson shot a combined 14-22 from deep.

Thompson is also good off of the drive as well and got to the free throw line 14 times against the Rockets in Game 2 alone. In the four meetings against the Blazers this year, Thompson scored over 20 points every game and twice over 35. There are no other easy matchups for Portland shooting guard C.J McCollum in this Warriors starting lineup. He will have his hands full if he starts on Thompson, who, at 6-foot-7, is also a much better defensive player than Redick.

What the Blazers need to do to win

Lillard Time: Lillard struggled at times in the Blazers' opening series. He forced a few shots even while his team was in rhythm offensively. He shot just 37 percent from the field for the series, and although Lillard's confidence is part of what makes him so special, the Blazers cannot win this series if he shoots 37 percent - simple as that. He's the leader, the best player, and will need to stay confident and take over parts of the game. But against an opponent this good, Lillard's supporting cast likely cannot make up for too much subpar shooting from their star point guard and still win a game. The Blazers need to all shoot well to keep the series competitive - Dame more than anyone else.

Smash the glass: Portland overcame poor shooting in the first round with their relentless attack on the offensive glass. The Blazers have to be able to dominate the rebounding battle against the Warriors as well. Golden State is a good rebounding team but Portland, who was the third-best offensive rebounding team in the regular season with 11.6 per game, has been on another level lately, averaging 14 offensive rebounds a night in the playoffs. That trend needs to continue for the underdogs to have a legitimate shot in this series.

Plumdog Thrillionaire: Mason Plumlee led the Blazers in assists, steals, rebounds, and blocks in the first round. Simply put, he was unbelievable. A lot of his assist stats came due to the Clippers forcing him into a playmaking role, and Plumlee not only made the right plays, but was even more engaged defensively than he has been all year. When he is good, he is really good, and needs to be seen and heard in this series defensively, on the boards, and on offense as well.

You've set your playoff bar very high Mason!

The Coldest Story Ever Told: When opposing teams start making runs, and things start unraveling, that seems to be when Moe Harkless is at his best. He always seems to get a big rebound or make a hustle play that kills the other team's momentum. It's a rare skill, but he has the knack. The Warriors are a team of runs, so Harkless' talent as a momentum-changer will be an extremely useful tool in this series. His constant energy has been a massive asset to Blazers and needs to be a difference maker in this series as well.

Final Thoughts

Draymond Green was quoted saying, "I think our confidence level with Steph is through the roof. It's beyond high. Without Steph, it's still at the roof."

While "at the roof" is still pretty high, anytime that you can play a 73- win team when they are not fully confident, you need to take advantage. The Blazers are being brushed aside in this series, with or without Curry. His absence could be bigger than people think and there is no guarantee that he either comes back in the two-week time frame or that he is healthy if he does play. If the Blazers steal one of the first two at Oracle, we have ourselves a series.

Let's remember, this is a team that loves to be overlooked. (#They)