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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors Preview

The Blazers have a key opportunity to move up in the Western Conference standings tonight. Can they take advantage?

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors (31-30) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (29-31)

Still riding the high of Damian Lillard’s historic 71-point performance against the Houston Rockets Sunday evening, the Portland Trail Blazers stare down an invaluable opportunity to make up ground in the Western Conference Standings this week. Starting tonight, the 11th place Blazers play back-to-back games against teams directly ahead of them in Play-In position: the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. If Portland is destined to push into the playoffs with 22 games left in the season, this two-day stretch may prove crucial.

Tonight’s challenger, the seventh-place Warriors, stand just 1.5 games ahead of Portland in the standings. Golden State has won its last two games and stand 5-6 in February, a stretch that included a 125-122 loss to Portland on Feb. 8. Superstar Stephen Curry has been out of the lineup since Feb. 6, but Klay Thompson has been lighting it up from deep in his absence and Draymond Green — who missed the last two games — is probable to play tonight.

Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trail Blazers - Tuesday, February 28 - 7:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Ryan Arcidiacono (out), John Butler Jr. (out)

Warriors injuries: Stephen Curry (out), Gary Payton II (out), Andrew Wiggins (out), Andre Iguodala (out), Ryan Rollins (out), Draymond Green (probable)

SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind

The Matchup

An encore. How will Damian Lillard follow up his virtuosic 71 points against the Rockets? My gosh, I can’t wait to find out. Through his spectacular scoring ability, Lillard has turned himself into must-see TV — and not just in Portland. Lillard highlights blanketed the national sports shows over the last 48 hours. He could create a little hysteria if he goes bonkers again (see the 2020 Bubble run for reference). But everybody is catching on to what Blazers fans already know: Lillard has been must-see TV all season, but especially in the past month. Through nine games in February, Lillard is averaging exactly 40 points per game. If he goes for 40 or more again tonight, that’ll mark a 40-point average for the entire month, an absurd feat that could make him frontrunner for Western Conference Player of the Month.

Bart Simpson Memes. Going bananas on the scoreboard is great fun and all, but nobody will believe the Blazers are turning a corner until they shape up (even just a little) on defense. Lillard’s offensive masterclass has led Portland to the second-best offensive rating in the NBA during February, but Portland also showcases the second-worst defensive rating during that stretch. In reference to the Blazers, my colleague Dave Deckard frequently posts a meme to Twitter of cartoon mainstay Bart Simpson writing the phrase “I will not give up 100 points in three quarters,” with that number even jumping to 120 in recent games.

Can Portland heed Bart’s advice tonight? No Jusuf Nurkic makes the task difficult and Golden State is one of the top offenses in the league, but the Warriors are also without Curry and Wiggins. Until Portland pieces together some stability on defense, success will be hard to sustain.

Watford Watch. One of the more interesting developments during the second half of the season has been second-year pro Trendon Watford’s emergence in the rotation. After dealing with an injury at the start of the season and then playing shaky upon his return, Watford’s spot in the rotation was fragile for months. Starting in February, he’s cemented his place in the bench unit with solid, heady play. The numbers aren’t jaw-dropping (say, like 40 points per game), but Watford has worked well as a facilitator and getting downhill for layups or free throws. His 3-point shot has been falling at an impressive rate, too (8-9 on 3s in February). Most impressive is Watford’s ability to pick apart numbers advantages out of the high post when he’s a roll-man or release valve for Lillard. If Lillard has it going again tonight and the Warriors are forced to send doubles his way, Watford could impact the game in a big way. But there’s also a formidable foe in the middle tonight to try and prevent that: defensive extraordinaire Draymond Green. Let’s see how the young guy handles that matchup.

What Others Are Saying

Brady Klopfer of Golden State of Mind writes how Klay Thompson — who led the Warriors to a 109-104 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday — has returned to peak form.

For the second straight game, Klay carried the offense even without the 46.5 points per game that Curry and Wiggins provide, and the 13.2 assists per game that Curry and Green provide.

He’s playing his best basketball since returning last January, and it’s not even close. Since the start of the calendar year he’s averaging 26.4 points per game and shooting 44.4% from three-point range on a whopping 12 attempts per game.

If you need confidence that the Warriors can figure things out for another title run, Klay’s performance should be near the top of the list.

Tim Kawakami of The Athletic discusses how Warriors rookie forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. has earned rotation minutes lately due to injuries and a smooth jumper.

Baldwin, in limited minutes, is currently shooting 46.8 percent from 3-point distance on the season. (Curry’s career best is 45.5 percent, which came in 2011-12, of course with much more volume.) He could go cold very soon. He could flatten out as opponents recognize that they can’t leave him open. But as long as Baldwin’s not getting destroyed on defense, anybody who’s that tall (he’s listed at 6-foot-9 but says he’s 6-11) and that lethal from deep is probably going to find some playing time.

“We want him shooting.” Kerr said. “When he’s out there, we don’t hesitate to draw up something for him. He’s coached every day to get into position to shoot. He’s a great shooter, great decision-maker with the ball. He seems to move and get to the right spots when he’s out there. He’s just a rookie, and he’s got a lot of work ahead, but we really like the way he’s coming along and how confident he is out there.”

Kerr has compared Baldwin’s possible effect on games to the way Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. and even Kevin Durant can light up defenses as tall forwards with smooth, quick-release jump shots that can be impossible to defend. That doesn’t mean Kerr is always going to play Baldwin, but it means Kerr, who recently said Baldwin is a future rotation player, isn’t ignoring what he’s seeing right now.