Playoffs 2017: West First Round -- Warriors (1) vs. Blazers (8)
Series preview: Golden State Warriors begin quest for another title run
Portland's guards may provide stiff test as No. 1-seeded Warriors begin next Finals quest
Warriors-Trail Blazers is the series where one team will be trying to redeem itself from the 2016 playoffs while the other tries to recapture a year ago. Or, more accurately, needs to recapture, with Portland looking for a repeat of the rally last season that took it from a bad start to the regular season and a bad start in the first round against the Clippers to a comeback victory that may have emotional value facing another long-shot bid this April.
Golden State, meanwhile, has its own memories: being the first team to ever lose The Finals after leading 3-1.
The previous 82 games showed the Warriors were not scarred, but the playoffs are a different time, inspiration can come in many forms and it is possible coach Steve Kerr wants his team to have flashbacks. Maybe neither team wants to forget the ’16 postseason.
3 quick questions and answers
How is Kevin Durant’s health? Not merely one of the pressing issues of the series, but for the entire league as the playoffs open. The early reviews on Durant’s return after missing 19 games with a sprained ligament and bone bruise in his left knee have been very encouraging for the Warriors. He played 31, 33 and 27 minutes since rejoining the lineup Saturday, a pretty strong medical update.
And what about Jusuf Nurkic’s health? Portland has its own prominent injury issue. The center who helped spark the second-half surge has missed the last eight games because of a fractured left leg. The Blazers expect him to play in the series. At what level, though, remains to be seen.
Why is Golden State sweeping the season series at least slightly minimized? Because all four games were before the All-Star break. The Trail Blazers have since acquired Nurkic and have won 17 of their last 23. This is not the same Portland team the Warriors saw in person.
The number to know
+90 — In the four regular-season meetings, the Warriors were a plus-90 in the first and third quarters, outscoring the Blazers 146-104 in the first and 140-92 in the third. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant combined for 26 points in the first quarter of the Dec. 17 meeting, and Curry scored 23 of his 28 points in the third quarter of the Nov. 1 meeting. For the season, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 22.8 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter, the best NetRtg in any quarter by any team in the last 20 years. They were at their best both offensively and defensively in the third.
* Aggregate bench NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions with bench players on the floor, weighted by minutes played.
Making the pick
The Warriors are probably not at 100 percent, needing a little more time for Durant to work back into basketball shape and regain his rhythm. But Golden State at 98 percent is still really good. While the Trail Blazers have the ability to win a game, especially with Damian Lillard motivated while playing his hometown team, the push to defend the Western Conference title should have a good beginning. Warriors in 5.
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Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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