Less than a week ago who would have thought that the Golden State Warriors would hope that the Los Angeles Clippers hold off the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, thus setting up a No. 1-versus-No. 4 matchup in the Western Conference Semifinals? A whole herd of injuries to critical players have completely shuffled the 2016 NBA playoffs, particularly in the West.
The Dubs lack the assumed back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry for at least a couple of weeks and the Clippers lost their two best players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the same night, likely both for the remainder of the postseason (however long that may be for them). Even the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference could not escape a major blow, as they lost defensive stud Avery Bradley early in their series against the Atlanta Hawks (a series they eventually lost in six games).
Let’s focus on the monster developments out West and how they affect the Warriors second-round series before it has even started. Now, the Blazers and Clippers play Game 6 of their best-of-seven set late Friday night, with Portland needing just a win at home to move on and face the best all-time regular season team. We like their chances, given the injuries to CP3 and Griffin, so let’s assume — a dangerous word within the sports lexicon — that they finish of the walking dead in LA to advance.
With the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off in the other Western semis, and the Eastern side of things coming into focus, how might the Warriors fare without Curry against the severely overachieving Trail Blazers? Will they be fine with home-court advantage and the likes of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green leading the way, or can Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum continue their unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals?
Golden State and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, with the Warriors winning three of them. One of four may not seem like much for the Trail Blazers, but hey, when you beat a team that went 73-9 at all, that is saying something. Just knowing that you are capable of not only competing, but besting a particular opponent could do wonders for Lillard and company’s confidence.
On the flip side, it may have already been said countless times, but it bears repeating… the Warriors are still an excellent team without their leading man. They would almost certainly still be a playoff team in the West without Curry for an entire season. It would be hard to envision many teams — other than the Spurs, Thunder, and probably Clippers — posting a better regular-season record than the Dubs without No. 30.
From the sharpshooting Thompson and the all-around beast in Green to the stingy defense provided by Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, this roster is still stacked without the best player at their disposal. You cannot forget about Harrison Barnes either, who has been tremendous in recent months.
It is interesting to note that of players who appeared in at least half of the Blazers games this season, four posted a player efficiency rating over 15.0 (Lillard, McCollum, Ed Davis, and Mason Plumlee). The Warriors (excluding Curry) had six of them (Green, Thompson, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, James Michael McAdoo, and Andrew Bogut).
When you look at both rosters as a healthy whole, obviously Curry is the No. 1 guy overall. Lillard probably takes the two spot, but then the next few are probably each Warriors. Even without Curry for likely the entire series, the Warriors are still at the very least as good as the Blazers (and they will have home-court advantage, where they are nearly unbeatable).
In order for Portland to pull off the upset, they will need both Lillard and McCollum to take full advantage of the Curry-less Golden State team, and have at least a couple of their best games of the entire season. Somehow, we do not see Steve Kerr’s historically good group letting that happen. Nearly all of this team was a part of the championship group a year ago, and have proven that they have the goods to get it done, even when facing major adversity.
Don’t get us wrong, Portland has shown that they will be a team to look out for next season, and they will should easily provide a more competitive series with the Warriors than the Houston Rockets did. In the end though, barring an injury to Thompson or Green, it will not be quite enough.
Who knows, maybe DeAndre Jordan can carry his team to a couple of wins this weekend and Portland will not even advance. For the casual NBA fan’s sake, let’s hope that is not the case.
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.