The Golden State Warriors’ road to the Western Conference semi-finals isn’t complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The Denver Nuggets and their 38-3 home record are waiting for the Warriors, and only need to continue that incredible run of success at the Pepsi Center in order to move on to the next round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Simply put, the Warriors will have to do what has been close to impossible this season–beat the Nuggets at the high altitude of Denver.
January 13, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) looks to pass the ball in the air while being defended by Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer (13) during the second half at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 116-105. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Rocky Mountains and the problems they present aren’t as much of as a factor as they would be for, say, a Denver Broncos game, but they are certainly a reason that the Nuggets have been so dominant on their home court. In an interview with KNBR’s Brian Murphy on Thursday, Denver broadcaster Jason Kosmicki asserted that the high altitude makes its biggest marks in the “first five minutes of the game and the first three minutes of the second half.”
It’s not like the Warriors exactly pride themselves on slowing things down and catching their breath either, and they probably won’t alter their offense to combat the effects of the altitude when playing in Denver. But Mark Jackson may have to give his regulars a bit more rest to avoid a complete breakdown in the later stages of each contest.
The good news for Golden State is that if they can survive Denver, they’ll return home to arguably the best home court atmosphere in the NBA for Game 3. Once the series gets there, they can begin to rely on the things that made them successful enough to grab the No. 6 seed.
In essence, those things boil down to Stephen Curry’s three-point shooting, double-doubles from All-Star forward David Lee and significant contributions from the bench, especially from Jarrett Jack. It’s unlikely that the Warriors can win the series without all three core tenets playing well. To win a game in Denver, it may take an extraordinary effort from one of the three key cogs, or an unexpected performance from the likes of Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes.
On defense, the Warriors don’t necessarily have a superstar to worry about torching them as they would had they been forced to play Oklahoma City or San Antonio. This actually might make things more difficult, though. Head coach George Karl has said that he is determined to prove that an NBA team can win without a headline-grabbing player running the floor, and, in some ways, he already has. The Nuggets are the number one scoring team in the league, averaging 106.1 points per game. If the Warriors were planning on trying to outslug them in a shootout, they’d better think twice.
January 13, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Golden State Warriors forward David Lee (10) faces off against Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) during the second half at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 116-105. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Neutralizing Kenneth Faried would be a huge step towards making things easier. Faried, colloquially known as “The Manimal,” was Denver’s leading rebounder during the regular season and tore Golden State up during the teams’ contests. The responsibility of keeping him off the boards would seem to fall on Lee and Andrew Bogut, who will not be on the floor nearly as much if he’s bothered by his bruised right ankle If Bogut finds a way to outperform his production during the regular season, the Warriors have a fighting chance.
However, Faried isn’t likely to play in Game 1, according to the Denver Post. If that’s indeed the case, then the Warriors should exploit the opportunity by winning Game 1 in Denver.
The Nuggets are understandably favored to win the series, but it won’t be the tidy four or five game affair some pundits have predicted. The Warriors can run with anyone and have proven to have the moxie to knock off big time opponents. It remains to be seen whether they can focus their efforts enough over a eight or nine day period to take down the team many are calling the most dangerous in the playoffs.