In this series, the Golden State Warriors are seeking to become a dynasty by winning a third straight NBA title while the Trail Blazers seek to make their first NBA Finals appearance in 27 years. The Golden State Warriors come in heavily favored over the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers despite the loss of Kevin Durant, who will likely miss at least the first two games in this series.
Damian Lillard/ Steph Curry
The marquee matchup in this series without question is Dame vs Steph. Both players struggled at times during the Western Conference semifinals and but were both able to hit big shots in key moments to secure wins late in games. Lillard comes in averaging 28.5 ppg while shooting.431/.375/.818 during the post-season thus far. Curry enters the series averaging 27.3 ppg while shooting .472/.437/.916.
The key to this matchup will be simply put who can hit more shots. Both players will be handling the ball in constant pick and roll situations and the player who can knock down the most shots is going to likely decide the series. Both players can get to the rim and finish as well as be unselfish and create for others. Curry will have an increased role in the offense due to the absence of Durant for at least the first couple of games and the Blazers will need to adjust accordingly if/when Durant returns. But for now, Curry is in the driver’s seat of this offense. One x-factor for this series is that it will be a homecoming for Damian Lillard who returns to his hometown of Oakland. Look for Lillard to be re-energized by this after a long and exhausting series with the Denver Nuggets.
Curry is clearly the more accomplished player in this matchup, but also has had the luxury of playing with much better teammates around him during this run. We saw Damian Lillard elevate his game against another elite NBA point guard in the opening round, Russell Westbrook, and I think the same will be true in this series.
Klay Thompson/CJ McCollum
Two of the best offensive talents in the game square off in this matchup. CJ McCollum dominated the Denver Nuggets with his elite ball handling and shot making, while Klay continues to be the most elite off the ball player in the NBA. While both put up big numbers they do so in very different ways. McCollum is best with the ball in his hands while Klay relies on screens and player movement to get open for spot up shots. In the end these two should cancel each other out in terms of their ability to put up points, however Thompson gets the edge here for his ability to defend. McCollum, not known for his defense, will likely be chasing around Thompson when tasked with having to defend him. Look for the Warriors to take advantage of this matchup on the offensive end.
Draymond Green/Chief Aminu
Clear advantage for Golden State in this matchup obviously. Green comes in as a premier NBA defender and energizer while Chief Aminu often looks half asleep while going up and down the floor. Aminu was flat out terrible in most of the minutes he played in the Blazers series against Denver and look for that to continue as the pressure increases in the Western finals. Neither player will contribute significantly on the scoreboard, however Green’s size and athleticism will cause the Blazers problems on offense.
Andre Iguodala/Mo Harkless
Iggy moves into the starting lineup with the absence of Durant the first two games. In all likelihood, Harkless will be tasked with defending Thompson or even Curry rather than the older Iguodala who does not create the offense he once did in his earlier years. Iguodala has been a key xfactor for the Warriors in their years of recent success and there’s no reason to believe this series will be different. Harkless will need to provide some sort of boost for the Blazers in this series as the Blazers will likely be without Rodney Hood who was injured in the second half of Game 7 against the Nuggets.
Andrew Bogut and Kevin Looney/Enes Kanter
It remains to be seen if we will see DeMarcus Cousins at all in this series, but for now the Warriors will send out a combination of Bogut and Looney to go against Enes Kanter. Kanter, who is observing Ramadan, is currently fasting during hours of sunlight to include hydrating during the game. This had seemed to become a slight factor in the Denver series as Kanter’s performance seemed to slump after the start of the holiday period. That being said, Kanter has been a godsend for the Blazers since the injury of Nurkic. Kanter is an extremely skilled offensive player and will have the upper hand in this series against whomever is on the floor opposite of him.
Early Thoughts and Predictions:
- The Blazers MUST MUST MUST win one of the first two games in Golden State. Simply put the Blazers cannot fall down 2-0 to the Warriors. Getting a split of the first two games in this series and flipping the homecourt advantage early on is their only chance.
- The Blazers at times struggled against Denver, however I feel this series is a much better matchup for them. The Blazers struggled with the on the ball pressure from Denver’s bigger guards and that simply won’t happen against Golden State. The shorthanded Blazers also had no answer for Nikola Jokic or Paul Millsap on the defensive end. Denver’s size was simply too much for Harkless/Aminu/Kanter to handle. The Warriors will not create these same issues for Portland and should result in better play from their frontcourt on defense.
- Kevin Durant better hurry up and get back if the Warriors are to win this series. The 2019 Warriors without Durant are not the same as the 2015 Warriors that won a record 73 games and that will be apparent in the first two games without him.
- This series will be very testy. There is bad blood between these teams and things will get very chippy at times. Both teams will need to be composed during these flare ups and not get hit with cheap technical/flagrant fouls
- Hot Take: The MVP of the series will not be Thompson, Durant, Curry or Lillard.. This series will be dominated by CJ McCollum.
Tough to call without knowing if/when Durant returns. With Durant, the Blazers likely lose in five games. However, the door creaks open with his absence. This series will be decided in the first two games. If the Blazers can pull just one upset on Tuesday or Thursday, they will be going to the NBA finals. And that’s exactly what is going to happen. Blazers in six.
*This is a debut blog for @Reaves9. He will be covering all things Blazers, Seahawks, NFL, NBA, and whatever the hell he wants to write about. Give him a follow on twitter @Reaves9.