Playoffs 2017: West Semifinals -- Warriors (1) vs. Jazz (5)

Series preview: Championship-level experience expected to carry Golden State Warriors past upstart Utah Jazz

Warriors should quickly dust off layoff rust to dispatch Jazz, which is heading into series fresh off seven-game series win over LA Clippers

Scott Howard-Cooper

As strange as it sounds for a team that has won 19 of the last 20 going back to the regular season and needed 3.25 games to sweep the Trail Blazers 4-0 in the first round, the Warriors can use some stability. Kevin Durant hasn’t played five contests in a row since February. Key reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes missed all or most of the Portland series. Coach Steve Kerr is ailing. They can use consistency in the rotation. And yet controlling the previous series followed by the chance for rest gives the impression of being in control. That is the difference between a strange time for the Warriors and a worrisome time. While the conference semifinals is another step as Golden State aims for a third consecutive trip to the championship series, reaching the second round is a special moment for the Jazz. They will be playing as underdogs, but also with confidence after beating the Clippers in seven games, including the road victory Sunday.

3 quick questions and answers

1. Will the Warriors be rusty? Maybe, but probably not for long. If not playing since dispatching the Trail Blazers on Monday – last Monday – is a potential concern, it’s also a possible benefit. Golden State needed time with Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes either working back from injury or close to returning, and just got it.

2. Will the Jazz be tired? Same answer. They go from closing out a tough first-round series Sunday against the Clippers in Los Angeles to the opener Tuesday night in Oakland. But Utah has a lot of young legs, even if older players are making a big contribution, and will not be lacking energy despite the quick turnaround.

3. How is Durant? Good. Not great, but headed in the right direction after going from missing two games in a row with a strained calf to playing 20 minutes in the first-round closer against the Trail Blazers, with the likelihood he could have gone longer if the outcome was not decided about the end of the national anthem. It’s just a matter of KD getting some run to get back into game shape.

The number to know

11.5 — The Warriors’ No. 1 offense can be electric, but their defense ranked second in the regular season and No. 1 in games against the league’s top-10 offenses. They were also the No. 1 defense in the first round, whether you want to look at straight points allowed per 100 possessions or that number relative to the opponent’s regular season average. In their four-game sweep, the Warriors held the Portland Trail Blazers to just 96.3 points scored per 100 possessions, 11.5 fewer than Portland averaged in the regular season. They held the Blazers to under 50 percent shooting in the restricted area and were better than the first round average in regard to forcing turnovers, keeping their opponent off the free throw line, and cleaning the glass. In the regular season, the Warriors held the Jazz to just 94.0 points per 100 possessions, Utah’s lowest mark against any Western Conference opponent (though it should be noted that Gordon Hayward missed two of the three games). — John Schuhmann

Making the pick

The Jazz defend, have handled health adversity in the playoffs, are getting clutch play from a lot of places and have every reason to feel good about the direction of the franchise. But they are not at Golden State’s level. While this will be a building-block moment as Utah strides to the future, the Dubs will reach the West finals a third year in a row. Warriors in 5.

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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