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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors Preview

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A very different Warriors team from last year’s Western Conference Finals series visits the Moda Center to play a very different Blazer team.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (11-16) vs. Golden State Warriors (5-23)

Wednesday, December 18 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Mario Hezonja (questionable), Nassir Little (probable)
Warriors injuries: Stephen Curry (out), Klay Thompson (out), Ky Bowman (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind

Quiz time: Is Wednesday’s game A) a rematch of the Western Conference Finals, B) a matchup between two of the six worst teams in the West, or C) Both of the above? While very few would have expected it before the season began, the answer is C. As disappointing as Portland’s season has been, the Golden State Warriors’s has been worse. Expectations were somewhat tempered for the defending West champions with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala gone and Klay Thompson expected to miss most of, if not the whole, season, but an early injury to Steph Curry really took the season off the rails. At 5-23, the Warriors have the worst record in the NBA.

One of Golden State’s five wins came against Portland. The Blazers suffered an embarrassing 127-118 loss to a Warriors team playing without Draymond Green or D’Angelo Russell back in early November. The loss put the Blazers under .500, and the team has stayed there since. Wednesday’s game marks the beginning of a four-game home stand for the Blazers who will be playing at the Moda Center until after Christmas.

What to watch for

  • Defending Eric Paschall. Golden State’s rookie forward destroyed Portland in their November matchup. The 23-year-old ended the game with 34 points, 13 rebounds and hit four of his six three-point attempts. The Blazers—playing without Zach Collins for the first time—were unable to slow him down. While that was Paschall’s best game of the season, the second-round pick has played consistently well. His 16.1 points per game is second among rookies. Paschall will be returning to the court after sitting out the last two games with a hip injury.
  • Don’t foul. One factor in Portland’s loss to Golden State earlier this season was a discrepancy in free throw shooting. The Blazers hit on 11 of 14 free throw attempts, while the Warriors made 33 of 36. This has been an issue for Portland throughout the season. Opponents are getting 27.6 free throw attempts per game against the Blazers (tied with Chicago for the worst mark in the league), and Portland is committing a league-high 23.2 personal fouls per game. There is no direct correlation between fouling and how good a team is (the LA Clippers foul nearly as often as, while Cleveland commits the fewest fouls in the league), but the Blazers need to be more disciplined when defending and rebounding.
  • The point guard matchup. It’s not Seph Curry vs. Damian Lillard, but D’Angelo Russell vs. Damian Lillard is still a matchup of All-Star guards. Russell, acquired by the Warriors from the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, has been productive. He leads Golden State in scoring with a career-high 21.5 points while adding 6.2 assists. Russell has had success in Portland in the past. He put up 39 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists in his last visit to the Moda Center (as a member of the Nets) while Lillard had 31 points, 12 assists, and 6 rebounds.

What they’re saying

Joe Viray of Golden State of Mind examined several of the Warriors’ issues after their recent loss to the Sacramento Kings:

It’s extremely jarring to see this particular squad be lost defensively, especially when it comes to perimeter defense. Effort is one thing — these Warriors aren’t lacking in it, and they deserve to be commended for it — but more often than not, such effort gets mired in futility due to a shortage of defensive-IQ and overall lack of defensive cohesiveness. Those took the form of defenders going under screens against deadly shooters, or failing to pick shooters up in transition, where a common sight is two Warriors defenders attaching themselves to a rim-runner, resulting in a trailer stopping just before the arc and being left with a wide-open look at the basket.

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle wonders if the Warriors will be able to make any salary shedding trades:

They’ll almost certainly pay the luxury tax again after using a portion of the $17 million trade exception (an exception that allows the Warriors to take on more salary than they give back in a deal) acquired in the Andre Iguodala deal, signing a mid-level-exception player (a price determined by the average salary of players on teams over the cap) and paying a top draft pick or the asset returned in dealing the selection.

Being a team that repeats paying luxury taxes comes with stiff monetary penalties and can affect some of the collectively bargained exceptions to acquire players, but deleting about $6 million from this season’s payroll to get under the apron might not be so easy.

While the timing is poor, the Sports Business Journal named the Golden State Warriors the franchise of the decade:

“We are truly humbled to be recognized with this prestigious honor by the Sports Business Journal, especially when you consider the number of outstanding organizations across all sports,” said Warriors President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts. “The past decade has provided our fans, business partners and all constituents with many incredible memories, and it’s the hard work and dedication of every single player and employee that enabled us to achieve our goals and ultimately share in this organization-wide, strength in numbers recognition.”