The Portland Trail Blazers are what the Golden State Warriors want to be: a contender in the Western Conference.
The Blazers, 43-23, emerged as a legitimate western conference title contender before 2014 began after getting off to a scorching hot start. And when the Warriors travel to Rip City for the first time this season, the matchup of two of the Western Conference elites could be a possible playoff preview.
For the Warriors sake, the Blazers would be a favorable matchup if the two sparred come April and May.
The sixth-seeded Warriors are currently only 2.5 games worse than the fifth-seeded Blazers, but the two teams seem to be going in opposite directions.
Since the All-Star break, the Blazers are playing like a completely different basketball team. They are a mere 7-6 overall and have played inconsistent basketball. Since returning from their five-day hiatus, the Blazers have scored almost six points more at home then on the road. Their defensive rating is almost 11 points better at home then on the road. In the first half of the season, Rip City averaged one more point per game on the road then at home and turned the ball over less on the road then at home as well.
The Warriors have been the opposite. They have a league best 13 wins on the road since Christmas Day, but have played inconsistent basketball at home. See their disappointing loss against the Cavs last night as exhibit A. But as we learned last year in the playoffs, when the Dubs make the dance, the crowd shows up.
The Blazers are one of the few teams in the Western Conference who have less playoff experience then the Warriors. And while all players downplay the importance of experience in the moment, Stephen Curry admitted after the Warriors loss to the Spurs just how important every single possession is and how you can’t let any one possession, quarter, or game slip away.
Another reason the Dubs would love to face off against Rip City is because of their ability to guard LaMarcus Aldridge and attack Damian Lillard. Back when the Warriors defeated the Blazers 103-88, the Warriors defense, led by Andrew Bogut, held Aldridge to only 10 points and 10 rebounds on 2-of-14 shooting. Bogut has been a dominant defensive presence this season and his ability to guard All-Star forwards and centers one-on-one is a true advantage.
Because of both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry’s abilities to score the basketball with ease, they Warriors are able to attack Blazers point guard Damian Lillard at all times. Basketball is played on both sides of the floor and while Lillard is a dominant offensive player, teams frequently attack the former Weber State guard. In two games combined against the Blazers, the Warriors starting backup has scored 107 combined points. In a seven game series, the possible proposition of attacking Lillard should make both Thompson’s and Curry’s respective mouths water.
Since Steve Blake’s arrival in the Bay Area, the Warriors bench has drastically improved. I wrote about the difference Blake has made earlier this week in upgrading the bench. As a result, the Portland Trail Blazers second unit has taken over as the league’s worst bench. Averaging only 24.0 points per game, the Blazers second unit struggles make any positive impact on a game and in a seven game series even with shorten benches, having six or seven players who can consistently contribute is important.
At the All-Star break, the Warriors were the eight seed in the West and had the season ended then would have been paired up against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But now there is a real likelihood that they end up with the fourth of fifth seed which would make a possible matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers very likely.