Trying to avoid losing three straight games for the first time all season, the Golden State Warriors (22-12) will have to find away around another “where do we stand” matchup, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers (20-15) at Oracle Arena on Friday night.
The Warriors’ two-game “losing streak” is tied for their longest in 2012-13 and comes in the midst of arguably the team’s toughest stretch of the year. After dealing with Portland, the blue and gold head on the road to Denver, then back home to face the defending champion Heat before flying to San Antonio to give the Spurs a go.
Taking those outside factors into consideration, Friday night’s tilt against the Blazers is a fairly important one. Unlike the team’s previous two losses, the Warriors will be playing a team below them in the standings. At this level, that’s called a “must-win.”
So how do they win it? They surely won’t be able to intimidate Portland. The Blazers are fresh off their best victory of the year, a 92-90 comeback win over the Heat that featured 20 points and 15 rebounds from the squad’s leading scorer, forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland has won 12 out of its last 15 games entering its first game of the season against Golden State.
But the Blazers are, somewhat like the Warriors, exploitable inside. Center J.J. Hickson (12.3 ppg, 10.9 rebounds) is a more-than-serviceable big man, but Portland as a team ranks only 21st in total rebounding (The Warriors are 5th) and relies more on fifteen footers and a few Aldridge highlights than winning the battle in the paint.
The Warriors should also expect a better than average shooting night on Friday. Only the Cavaliers, Suns and Bobcats have allowed their opponents to shoot for a higher field goal percentage than Portland, whose foes are slightly over 46 percent from the field. Look for Mark Jackson to mix in a heavy dose of Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack and maximize their touches from the outside if Golden State gets hot early.
One way Golden State could lose this game is if they get into foul trouble early on. The Blazers are 11th team in free throw percentage, and normally don’t beat themselves by tossing up bricks from the charity stripe. Jackson shouldn’t need overtly physical play from his starters to halt the Blazers’ offense, and might be best served allowing a few extra attempted shots in exchange for keeping Portland away from the foul line and keeping David Lee and the like on the court.
If the Warriors take advantage of the holes in Portland’s game, they should find a way to win for the first time in three games, but expect the Blazers to have something for them for most of the night. Based on the upcoming slate of games, Golden State had better get used to these types of challenges if they wish to maintain their current strangehold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (22-12) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (20-15)
WHERE: Oracle Arena
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
AT STAKE: Warriors attempting to avoid first three-game losing streak of the season, keep pace in Western Conference playoff race.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jarrett Jack. Look for Golden State to find him plenty of shots if he’s got the stroke going.
PREDICTION: Warriors win a tight one, 95-89.