As the Portland Trail Blazers approach their series with the Golden State Warriors, we engaged in a mutual Q&A Session with SBNation sister site Golden State of Mind. Below are the questions I asked Nate Parham, GSOM Editor. You can see the questions he asked me and my responses here. Hint: stuffy GSOM readers seem to think I'm a total Blazer homer the way stuffy Blazer's Edge readers seem to think I'm a total Blazer downer. Just can't win. But I do hope the Warriors try plenty of that guard post offense that they seem to think will be Portland's downfall. Aminu cross-matching and Plumlee secondary shot-blocking FTW!
Anyway, here's how Nate answered our queries.
Blazer's Edge: Let's ask the big one first. How nervous does Steph being out make you? Your question made it clear that the best-case scenario (for some, anyway) is a sweep of the second round. What's worst-case? What do you think are the odds of either coming true?
Nate Parham: A best case scenario to me depends on Curry's return: he's making a push to come back before the targeted date of May 9, which would be Game 3. If he comes back (on a minutes limit, I'd assume) when the Warriors go play those road games, a sweep is totally plausible.
The worst case is Curry doesn't return until later, Lillard goes off for one game in front of his hometown crowd and the Warriors simply can't outscore the Blazers in one of those other games without Curry (I mean, Houston won a game with Curry out and a team of randomly selected Blazers fans has more heart than the Rockets). Warriors in 6.
Ultimately, I don't see that best case happening -- Lillard is going to go off for at least one game and if the rest of his team gets hot from deep while Thompson gets stuck in his own head and Draymond gets turnover happy trying to force the action, and that's a loss. Curry is kind of a wild card here because he's an unreliable prognosticator of his own injuries, but I think he's gonna be out most of this series as he tries to find his rhythm coming off two injuries so it's *more* likely that the worst case happens. But my prediction has been Dubs in 5...and I'm sticking to it.
B.E. Shaun Livingston: How do you feel about his offense? Will the lack of three-point range hurt you over a long series? Also what's his defense like? Has he still got it?
N.P. I loved the Livingston signing from the moment they made it and the reason is that he's a point guard who sort of inverts the point of attack. When he posts up - either off screens or by dribbling into position - he puts most teams in a really awkward position: he's a mismatch for most guards as a post scorer and he still has amazing vision, which he used to make pinpoint passes out of the post. When you surround him with shooters - Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Brandon Rush, or Klay Thompson - he gets all the room and time he needs to work. So the lack of shooting doesn't hurt the team nearly as much as people assume because he's usually not just hanging out on the perimeter and I think that wrinkle is a plus in keeping teams off-balance.
Defensively, his length gives the Warriors the ability to switch although Curry is a stronger and more tenacious defender in some respects (I think people still underestimate Curry as a defender). His ability to get a hand up to contest pretty well is helpful, but his biggest asset is his length and ability to keep the Warriors "switchy".
B.E. Give me your best frontcourt against the Blazers and why.
N.P. First, I think it's important to note how the Warriors' style of play changes without Curry in there: the Warriors went from fast pace to increasingly slower when they lost Curry against Houston and I'd imagine we'd see more of that this round. In their 2 full games without Curry, they had a pace of 94 in Game 2 and 92.4 in Game 5. They're comfortable playing slower ball and with the way they like to post up Livingston, Green, and sometimes Thompson or Barnes depending on matchups it's the way to go without Curry.
So ideally, they get Bogut playing well to help control the boards and protect the rim as Lillard and McCollum drive while Green does his typical Green things. They struggled to find an effective big to pair with Green in the first round and expecting Speights to consistently get buckets is a bit of a stretch. So I really want to see Bogut be effective this series to help limit the Blazers' offensive rebounds and make this a slower series that comes down to execution.
B.E. So Klay becomes the guy with Curry out.
A. Can he score on his own or does he need to be set up to be comfortable?
B. Who helps take the pressure off him most and how?
N.P. Klay is clearly better being set up by others, but he's gotten so much better at driving and finishing that he's at least capable of beating a defense by creating his own scoring opportunities.
However, I think when Green is an efficient ball handler - not turning the ball over in bunches - he's the guy that helps Thompson the most simply because he can make plays while Thompson uses screens to get open.
B.E. What's one aspect of Golden State's game that the Blazers will never, ever be able to stop, Steph or no Steph?
N.P. I think the thing that's easy to forget while focusing on Curry's dominance is that this is still a very good 3-point shooting team -- so far in the postseason playing largely without Curry, they're the second best 3-point shooting team (40%) on the second most attempts in the Western Conference. And that's including one dud of a game from Thompson when he went 0-for-7 and five duds from Harrison Barnes. (Speaking of Barnes, he shot just 3-for-15 from beyond the arc in the last series and even suffered the disrespect of having the Rockets throw Harden on him. If he can get hot — or even back to average — that adds even more spacing on the court which can only help.)
They move the ball so well, set so many screens and attack from so many different points on the floor that they still get open looks. They might not have some mad scientist out there throwing the ball in the basket from 35 feet off the dribble, but they still have a dynamic offense with plenty of weapons and that will go a long way to helping them if they slow things down in this series.