Western Conference Finals Preview: Warriors vs Blazers
Courtesy of NBC Sports.
This is how the NBA Playoffs are supposed to work, right? The two best teams from each conference are meant to meet in their conference finals in order to determine who is superior, and by extension, who is allowed an opportunity to seize eternal glory.
For the Golden State Warriors, it has been a yet another deep post-season run, increasingly vindicating their dynastic status as they attempt to string together a three-peat of NBA Championships. While they have met some resistance in the form of two six-game series, their presence in the Western Conference Finals was largely expected by the entirety of the basketball-watching public.
For the Trail Blazers, it has been a winding (and surprisingly long) playoff journey that not many predicted, borne out of unprecedented performances from their star guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. While many will argue that Portland has been less talented, less entertaining, or generally less than their opponents (the Thunder and Nuggets, in that order) thus far, they have simply continued pushing forward; the Trail Blazers now possess an opportunity to dismantle a dynasty that has never seemed so fragile.
It will not be easy for both sides, of course. With Kevin Durant expected to miss the first two games of the series, Golden State will certainly have their work cut out for them; luckily for Bay Area residents, the Warriors showed great promise without their superstar free-agent-to-be in Games 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. That being said, Portland and Golden State match up pretty well across the floor, and are set up for an entertaining series (especially considering the back-and-forth comments exchanged by McCollum and Durant over the past year).
So how do these teams match up?
Regular Season Series: 2-2 Tied
Portland comes into this matchup after beating Golden State, 129-107, on February 13th. Lillard led the Blazers in that victory, but what should be alarming to Warriors fans is that Steph Curry and Durant both led Golden State that night with 32 points apiece.
Golden State has been employing the motto “Strength in Numbers” during this playoff run, and for Warriors fans' sakes, you have to hope that slogan holds true if Durant’s injury continues to keep him sidelined beyond the medical staff's projected timeline.
Key Matchup(s): Stars, or Bench Units?
While the easiest matchups to consider would involve both teams' starry backcourts (such as Lillard vs. Curry, or Thompson vs. McCollum), perhaps the best matchup would be that of the bench units. Stars are rightfully expected to produce (and Golden State has stars to spare), but the team whose bench unit provides high-quality minutes with greater volume and consistency will have a respectable chance of winning this series. Golden State doesn’t have a very strong bench, but their shrunken rotation played very well in Games 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. For Portland, all of their key contributors will have to produce each night. Portland has started slow during their previous series this year, but can’t skip afford to skip a beat against the two-time defending champions, as they are still (despite injuries to Durant and Cousins) down on overall talent and experience.
Series prediction: GSW 4-2
I honestly think that Portland has a fighting chance, but it is tough for me turn my back on Golden State, even without Durant. They’ve proven themselves time and time again, and their 73-win core is still healthy and intact, while the Trailblazers are only beginning to validate their status as a contender. Warriors in six.