Portland Trail Blazers (15-21) at Golden State Warriors (30-5)
Jan. 4, 2017, 7:30 PST
Watch: KGW, ESPN; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (doubtful), Festus Ezeli (out)
Warriors injuries: Shaun Livingston (probable), Patrick McCaw (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
After a come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves that saw them play one of their best defensive quarters of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers head to the Bay Area to take on the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors, sporting an NBA-best 30-5 record, will be taking on the Blazers in the second night of a back-to-back after defeating the Denver Nuggets.
Following early questions about their defense, Golden State has picked up right where they left off at the end of last year’s regular season, sporting a scarily-efficient offense that saw superstar Kevin Durant added to the team’s core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
The results are staggering. Golden State shoots 56 percent from 2-point range and 38 percent from the 3-point line while leading the league in assists with 31 per game. As a result, the Warriors are putting up 117 points a night. With so many ways to beat you, they are more than willing to share the ball and get open looks all over the court. On any given night it could be Curry with 35 points, Durant with 35, Klay with 35 (or 60, as he had against Indiana in only 29 minutes of play earlier this year), or Green with a triple-double.
Because of their array of weapons, opponents aren’t able to key in on any one Warriors player, which can make things especially difficult for defensively challenged teams. In two match-ups this season, the Warriors have beaten the Blazers by a score of 127-104 and, in a crushing victory, 135-90.
There are two bright spots for the Blazers heading into this game; First, Damian Lillard is expected to make his return after missing the last four games with a sprained ankle. Portland has relied on a “second scorer by committee” approach in his absence and needs his firepower back in the offense. CJ McCollum did a fine job while he was out, especially in terms of scoring, but Lillard is the more natural distributor, able to get teammates involved.
The second bright spot is, in fact, the defense. After an astonishingly bad start to the season, Portland has only given up more than 100 points twice in their last six games - both times giving up 110 points to the San Antonio Spurs. Using a less conservative defensive approach that utilizes trapping and occasional double-teaming, Portland has been able to take advantage of their athleticism on the defensive end.
It remains to be seen how effective this approach will be once Lillard is reinserted in the starting lineup in place of Allen Crabbe, a more traditionally sized wing, but it’s important to not put too much weight on Portland’s defensive progress on tonight; the Warriors are going to score, and they’re going to do it a lot. You just have to make them work for it.
Portland’s best bet will be continue mixing up defensive coverages like they have over the last 10 days and utilizing pick-and-rolls against Curry, an average defender at best. Blazers fans have seen what happens when Lillard (who’s doubtful tonight) gets hot against his hometown team and, even though playing a close competitive game against the league’s best is nice, Portland is running out of time for moral victories.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!