The Golden State Warriors are one game back from the Portland Trail Blazers in the western conference standings, and will look to usurp Damian Lillard and company tonight.
This is the first meeting between both teams this season. The underachieving Warriors have strung together three consecutive wins, all without Stephen Curry, while the Blazers recently downed the Charlotte Hornets to stop the bleeding of a three-game skid.
Golden State won’t have all of their horses in this one, as a host of players including three of their four most important — Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins — have all been ruled out or are questionable to suit up.
Nonetheless, the No. 10-seed Warriors will defend their league-leading 15-2 home record against a Blazers squad that is as liable for a win as for a loss on the road, at a perfect .500 record away from the Moda Center.
Blazers vs. Warriors — Friday, December 30, 7:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: NBA TV, Root Sports Plus, NBC Sports
Blazers Injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (game-time decision), Gary Payton II (out), Keon Johnson (out), Greg Brown (out), Justise Winslow (out), Nassir Little (out)
Warriors Injuries: Draymond Green (game time decision), Donte DiVincenzo (game time decision), Stephen Curry (out), Andrew Wiggins (out), JaMychal Green (out), Andre Iguodala (out)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
What to Watch For
- Who Will Be That X-Factor Off The Bench?: This shoe fits both teams. Injuries are plaguing the Blazers and the Warriors, and some of their most reliable role players will be watching from the sidelines. Therefore, those sitting a little further down the bench will have opportunities to prove themselves. It all starts now.
Portland will be missing forwards Winslow and Little. Trendon Watford and Jabari Walker will have their names called. While Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups might opt to overload his starters on minutes, Watford figures to see much time, as the only other viable-enough big man on the roster to relieve Drew Eubanks in the event that Nurkic sits. Watford shoots 57 percent from the field on the season, and is able to run hard in transition, put the ball on the floor, and score inside. He also averages 8.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, so he’ll look to be able to maintain efficiency and up production correlative to a minutes hike and Walker will need to be ready to give 10 minutes if he’s called upon.
For the Warriors, offense will need to come from someone other than Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson. Jonathan Kuminga has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, and coach Billups will have to game plan to keep him from getting a head of steam and penetrating inside. Moses Moody will surely capitalize off of no DiVincenzo to absorb his minutes, and is one of the quietest killers in the NBA. He’s one of those guys that’ll rack up a whole lot of buckets without you really realizing at first. If you’ve watched Warriors basketball you’ll know. When his number is called in crucial situations, he can hit corner threes, cut to the basket and more, so he is nothing to scoff at.
- The Warriors are More Than Just Bombers: Just because Curry won’t be playing doesn’t change a thing. The splash nephew, the one that makes the Poole party happen, is not gun-shy. And Portland does what they do from distance on a nightly basis. The synopsis is nuanced. On one hand, winning the three-point battle will give Portland a great chance to win. But Golden State is such a well oiled machine that they do so many things well. Steve Kerr loves to draft up plays where Warriors guards cut off of pin downs inside 20 feet. They just might be the best backdoor cutting team in the league. Billups’ zone may not ever be needed more than against this team.
Golden State is also adroit at misdirections and smoke screen plays. Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart must be ready to do a lot of running to keep up with Poole and Thompson. They will need to be ready for Kevon Looney and his underrated passing from the free throw line extended. The list can go on and on, but coach Billups will need to match coach Kerr’s coaching adjustments on the fly if Portland looks to win, let alone dominate this one.
- How to Get Points Inside?: Looney is one of the most underrated rim protectors in the league. His work in the 2022 playoffs was unsung. Assuming Eubanks is the man in the middle, the Blazers will need to be ultra-aggressive in getting to the rack to convert two-point opportunities.
What Others are Saying
Gabe Fernandez of Sfgate.com went into young Warrior role players stepping up of late, and coach Kerr’s satisfaction with such:
In the end, Baldwin was statistically the most effective player on the court for Golden State, leading the team in plus/minus at +13 and holding his own on both sides of the floor. He “changed the game” when he hit two second-quarter threes, coach Steve Kerr said.
“It feels different to win this game based on the circumstances. This is a game we wouldn’t have won a few weeks ago,” Kerr said. “I think our young guys are really growing.”
NBC affiliate KGW8 reported on the Blazers’ current predicament in the standings, and how a win against the Warriors can begin to tip the scales and fuel a string of wins that can catapult Rip City back to the top of the western conference standings:
Portland, for example, is currently in eighth place. But the Blazers are only two games out of fourth place — the top four teams in the conference get homecourt advantage in the playoffs — and four games out of first place. Conversely, Portland is just 2.5 games ahead of the team currently ranked 11th. Only 10 teams make the playoffs or play-in.
A hot streak could put the Blazers in position to challenge for homecourt advantage in the playoffs, while a cold spell could push the Blazers further down the standings and even out of the playoff picture. Something that could help the Blazers, if they can do their part by winning games, is that teams ahead of them in the standings are dealing with injuries to key players.