A look at how the Golden State Warriors match up against the Portland Trailblazers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs
The second round of this year’s playoffs promises to be an interesting test for the Golden State Warriors, as they take on the Portland Trailblazers without superstar point guard Stephen Curry, sidelined with a low-grade MCL sprain. Portland holds the prestigious honor of being one of the few teams to not only beat the 73-win Warriors, but also to have blown them out 137-105 right after the All-Star break. Damian Lillard, fresh off an All-Star snub, dropped 51 points. Now they face off again for the chance to advance to the Conference Finals (likely to play the Spurs). How do they match up?
Quick Look: Portland Trailblazers
Thriving on the stellar play of Damian Lillard and newly crowned Most Improved Player CJ McCollum, this Blazers team was putting on a guard show even before the Los Angeles Clippers lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to injury. Maybe they would have made it here anyway, maybe not. No point in playing “what if” at this point. They have solid big men, but since the departure of LaMarcus Aldrige last year, none are dominant.
This team thrives on guard play, which is one of the reasons they could give the Warriors fits even when healthy. Curry is an above-average team defender when he plays, but he struggles to stay in front of elite, explosive guards. If you can’t hide him on a weaker off-guard, it causes problems. Make no mistake, Lillard is elite. And McCollum is very good. They’ll look for contributions from the frontcourt as always, but if this team wants to win out of this round, it’s more on those two than anyone else. Not to mention, they’re very well run by Coach of the Year runner-up Terry Stotts. Here’s a comparison of their stats in the playoffs in wins vs. losses:
[Offensive stats in playoffs, better or worse than regular season]
Quick Look: Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, even without Curry, are a very dangerous team. More than capable of hanging around with elite squads and winning games, they have a stable of top-flite firepower left in the lineup. Curry could be back as soon as the fourth game or so of this round, but for now I’ll assess them without him. They lose scoring without the MVP, that’s for sure, but the lineup his absence causes them to use is scary on the defensive end with length and instinct: Livingston-Thompson-Barnes-Green-Bogut. Every single one of those players is a very flexible defender with the ability to cleanly challenge shots and stay in front of players. This starting lineup might actually be better equipped to bottle up Portland’s guards than it is with Curry.
If they’re going to win, they need efficiency from the guys whose roles increase while Curry recovers, and probably a heat check night from Thompson during an away game. They throttled Houston at home with this lineup, but that was one of the most disinterested-looking teams in recent memory (and even when they looked like they cared, they didn’t play very good defense). Shaun Livingston will have to maintain his efficient and selective offense, but his defense and switching with Thompson up top against Lillard and McCollum is going to win more possessions than his shooting.
Key Matchup: Shaun Livingston against Damian Lillard
Lillard is what makes the Blazers click on the court. He’s their leading scorer, best facilitator, and a tremendous threat off the dribble both on shots and drives. He’s hard to contain. With all due respect to CJ McCollum, Lillard drives this team on offense, which is where they will have to win games this series to come out on top. If Curry was playing, he’d be the key match here but aim to outshoot Lillard. With Livingston, it’s about defense. He’ll have to use his length to shave down passing lanes and contain Lillard off the bounce, forcing the burden of running the machine on other players like McCollum and Mason Plumlee (a smart high-post passer in the vein of Andrew Bogut). On offense, he needs to punish Lillard in the post, as he tends to do against smaller guards.
Honorable mentions to the matchups below the basket, particularly Bogut against Plumlee and Ed Davis against Marreese Speights. They won’t win the game on offense, but they’re high-motor rebounders who will look to clean the offensive glass all game long. It’s up to the Warriors’ big men to keep them from getting McCollum and Lillard extra chances.
Portland is explosive, well-coached, and dangerous. Despite Curry’s injury costing Golden State some firepower, their next-man up lineup might actually be better suited to bottling up explosive guards and throttling the Blazer offense. Additionally, Portland’s bigs might not be offensively elite, but they rebound very well, which could cause Golden State problems. They’ll need to keep Plumlee and Davis off the glass to survive. It won’t be easy, but the smart pick here is still the Warriors. It just might be harder than you’d think, especially if Lillard goes off.
At the end of the day, this is still ~80% of a 73-win team, and it’s doubtful anyone can really threaten them in a full series except the Spurs and Cavaliers.
Pick: GSW in 6