You’d be a fool to bet against the Warriors.
Damian Lillard said Trail Blazers in six (though not seriously). That’s a long shot, but the star point guard will attempt to gun his team into the second round in an improbable effort against a star-studded Golden State Warriors team — a team expected to three-peat as Western Conference champions.
Portland was rolling after a midseason deal landed Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets. He was the Trail Blazers’ difference-maker on both ends until a March 30 fibular fracture in his leg sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. Lillard and C.J. McCollum were able to hold down the fort and retain the No. 8 seed, but it’s unclear if Jurkic will be cleared to return (or if it’s wise for him to rush back).
That’s bad news for a Trail Blazers team taking on a Golden State squad that welcomed Kevin Durant back from an MCL sprain with three games remaining in the regular season. Durant returned to the Warriors after they had rattled off 13 straight wins to cement themselves as the West’s top seed.
They did so behind Stephen Curry, who returned to MVP form in Durant’s absence. The Warriors got a boost from Klay Thompson’s hot shooting that ran in tandem with a weather spike in Oakland. And they continued to dominate teams as a byproduct of Draymond Green’s limitless impact on every facet of the game.
It’s a tough straw for Portland, but they’d rather be here than on the outside looking-in.
Make no mistake, Lillard has help. McCollum has continued to improve as an electrifying, calculated perimeter scorer. He’s averaging career-highs in points (23) and all shooting percentages. They’re also banking on Evan Turner to prove his value after signing a $70 million contract last summer.
Getting Nurkic back will help, but rushing him back would do exponentially more harm than good.
Either way, the Trail Blazers will need all the help they can get if they hope to get a game over the Warriors.
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum vs. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
You can look at the Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Kevin Durant matchup as the deciding contest. You can even say Draymond Green vs. whoever is guarding him is equally as important.
But this first-round matchup, like many showdowns in the NBA, is going to be decided by guard play.
The Trail Blazers are powered by a one-two tandem that, while undersized, gives defenders nightmares around the perimeter. Lillard is averaging a career-best 27 points per game on a career-high shooting percentage. McCollum has emerged as an equally dangerous scorer in his own right.
Neither of those two have an edge on Golden State’s guards.
Curry and Thompson are one of the best, if not the best, shooting backcourts the NBA has ever seen. Thompson doubles as a premier defensive stopper.
A tough draw by the Blazers can be somewhat mitigated if they find the equation to stifle the Warriors’ guards. Unfortunately, no team has cracked that code just yet.
Series Schedule (All times ET)
Game 1: Warriors 121, Trail Blazers 109 (recap)
Game 2: Warriors 110, Trail Blazers 81 (recap)
Game 3: April 22 at Portland, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: April 24 at Portland, 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: April 26 at Golden State
Game 6*: April 28 at Portland
Game 7*: April 30 at Golden State