The Golden State Warriors have already lost one game and one power forward to the Denver Nuggets, putting them at a severe disadvantage in an already difficult playoff series moving forward.
All Star David Lee left with a torn hip flexor only 29 minutes into his first career playoff game Saturday, effectively ending his postseason. Without Lee, the Warriors will have to rely on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack to generate offense against a speedy Nuggets team that struggled to defend the three point shot all season long. In particular, Curry and Jack will have to bounce back from below average Game 1 shooting performances, especially if the Warriors lose their rebounding advantage with the return of Denver’s Kenneth Faried.
Despite an expected fall-off in team rebounds, Lee’s injury could actually help the Warriors defensively – Denver averaged 104.3 points per 48 minutes with Lee on the court this season, compared to just 93.7 points when he sits. The power forward’s deficiencies on defense were most apparent in the paint, where the Nuggets shot 48 percent (21-of-44), a 12 point improvement over the team’s season average (36 percent; 253-of-711).
Of course, whatever strides the Warriors take on defense will come at the expense of their offense, where the Nuggets allowed 101.8 points per 100 possessions against lineups featuring Lee. With Lee gone, Golden State’s offensive rating against Denver plummets to 91.2 points per 100 possessions, which is indicative of just how important he is to the team’s ability to score.
Making up for Lee’s absence poses a challenge for Mark Jackson, particularly when you consider the pieces he has to work with.
“We have a lot of options, and we’ll move forward and make a decision (Tuesday) night,” Jackson said, according to a SFGate.com. “We can go with a true power forward in Carl Landry, we can go Draymond Green, we can go Harrison Barnes, we can go Richard Jefferson, we can go Festus Ezeli, we can go Jarrett Jack, so the options are there.”
All of the players Jackson lists have strengths, but Golden State cannot rely on any of them to score, rebound and pass as effectively as Lee had over the course of the season. The two most obvious choices to start at power forward would be Barnes or Landry. Lineups featuring Landry score well (105.3 points per 100 possessions), but they also give up an untenable 107.2 points per 100 possessions. And as great as it is to watch Harrison Barnes dunk his way across the league, the former North Carolina star remains an unpolished talent whose basketball IQ hasn’t caught up to his obvious physical gifts.
The Lee-Bogut interior combination creates a lot of pick-and-roll opportunities for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and Lee’s efficiency from mid-range adds another layer to the Warriors offense that defenses could ignore if a woefully inefficient Harrison Barnes were to play the four. And although Landry can score at the basket and from the baseline, he does not play as well from the elbows, severely limiting the Warriors options moving.
In any case, the Warriors will likely rely on smaller, speedier offenses to generate offense moving forward in the series.
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets
WHEN: 7:30 PM, TNT
AT STAKE: The Warriors will look to even up the series without All Star power forward David Lee.
PLAYER TO WATCH: After a disappointing Game 1, expect Stephen Curry to shoot early and often.
PREDICTION: No Lee, no win. Warriors lose to Denver 105-98.