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Western Conference Finals: Trail Blazers at Warriors Game 1 Preview

The Blazers have a tough challenge ahead of them in their first Western Conference Finals since 2000 as they matchup with the two-time defending champs.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors (Series: 0-0)

Tuesday, May 14 - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Rodney Hood (questionable)
Warriors injuries: Damian Jones (out), DeMarcus Cousins (out), Kevin Durant (out)
How to watch on TV: ESPN
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind

The Western Conference Finals begin as the Portland Trail Blazers face off against the two-time defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors haven’t lost a Western Conference playoff series since 2014 and have a playoff record of 40-10 since adding Kevin Durant after the 2016 season. Golden State will likely be without Durant for at least the first two games of the series, but his absence didn’t slow the Warriors down in Houston last week. This is an experienced team that knows how to win in the playoffs.

After earning a reputation as a team that couldn’t get out of the first round, the Blazers are becoming an experienced team that knows how to win in the playoffs as well. They battled through a 3-2 series deficit against Denver and became just the 29th team to win a game seven on the road. They have won games a variety of different ways—including a four-overtime thriller and a series-ending buzzer-beater—and seen several different players step up at different times. The Warriors are a different type of challenge, and Portland will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992.

Keys to the series

  • The backcourt matchup. This series features a matchup of two of the best scoring backcourts in the league. All four starters are capable of taking over games and swinging them in their team’s favor. Damian Lillard was the clear MVP of Portland’s first round series against Oklahoma City, while CJ McCollum led the way against Denver. With Durant leading the way for Golden State, both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson haven’t been forced to carry the load as much this postseason. They took turns stepping up in Game 6 against the Rockets with Durant out with a right calf strain. Thompson scored 21 first-half points, and Curry (who didn’t score in the first half) added 33 points in the second half. The defensive priority for both teams will be limiting the scoring by Lillard, McCollum, Curry, and Thompson.
  • The rotations. There is little margin for error in the playoffs. Rotations get tighter as coaches look to get favorable matchups. Against Denver, Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu had unfavorable matchups and ended up only averaging 16.3 and 12 minutes, respectively, over the final two games. They both averaged about 30 minutes against the Thunder and were important factors on both ends. For the Warriors, the injury to Durant throws coach Steve Kerr’s rotations into flux. Andrew Bogut started their last game (after barely playing in the previous few games), but Kevon Looney and Quinn Cook (who had several DNP’s) played the most minutes off the bench. The coach who makes the most of their rotations by adjusting for the matchups will give their team the advantage.
  • Three-point defense. The Warriors lead all teams in three-point percentage in the playoffs, shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. The Blazers aren’t far behind, shooting 35.9 percent—the fourth best mark—despite having a rough shooting performance against the Nuggets. The second and third teams in this category: the Warriors’ two opponents so far. The Clippers shot 36.3 percent against them in the first round, while Houston shot 36.7 percent in the second. How well these teams shoot and defend the deep ball could go a long way toward determining who wins.

What they’re saying

Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Damian Lillard’s Oakland roots:

Lillard, 28, is establishing himself as a more-than-worthy heir to the legacy of Oakland basketball greats. The city produced big men from Bill Russell and Paul Silas to Antonio Davis and Greg Foster, and point guards from Gary Payton and Jason Kidd to Lester Conner and Brian Shaw.

Lillard, in many ways, personifies the lineage of Oakland point guards: tough and fearless, with an unmistakable chip on his shoulder. But he’s also taken the tradition into new frontiers, given his extraordinary long-range shooting skills.

Steffen Pedersen of Blue Man Hoop broke down the unappreciated contribution of Kevon Looney:

Kevon Looney has a high basketball IQ. He’s a great passer, great rebounder, he positions himself well and he keeps his feet moving while defending. In the Warriors-Houston series, Looney often found himself guarding Chris Paul after a switch, and he did a great job always putting the pressure on.

Looney personifies the competent but hugely underrated Warriors bench. The Kevin Durant injury showed that the Warriors bench will deliver when needed, and Looney elevated his game during two high-pressure games.

Dieter Kurtenbach of the Mercury News cited the playoff focus and energy of the Warriors as a reason to not put too much stock in the Portland-Golden State regular season matchups (which the teams split 2-2):

Surely in the build-up to Game 1, a talking head will point to the teams’ regular-season matchups. I’d recommend you point to the tape of those games, not just the box scores, because in all four contests, you see a Warriors team that looks nothing like the one we’ve seen in this postseason — even in the games they won.

It’s downright jarring how different they looked in, say, Game 1 of the Rockets series vs. their game in Portland right before the All-Star break where they fell apart in the fourth quarter.