Series Preview: Warriors vs. Nuggets

Series Preview: Warriors vs. Nuggets

Dubs Enter Playoffs as No. 3 Seed in the West; Set for First-Ever Playoff Games at Chase Center
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LET THE PLAYOFFS BEGIN
The Warriors are back in the playoffs, and Saturday’s Game 1 matchup with the Nuggets will mark the first NBA postseason game ever at Chase Center. This will be the first playoff appearance for the Dubs since 2019, when the team capped a run of five straight runs to the NBA Finals, resulting in NBA Championships for the franchise in 2015, 2017 and 2018. In addition to being the Warriors’ first playoff game in three years, it will mark only the second playoff game ever in the city of San Francisco, and it has been over 58 years since the first one back in 1958 – since moving to the Bay Area prior to the 1962-63 season, all other postseason games were played in either Oakland (Oracle Arena) or Daly City (Cow Palace), per the Elias Sports Bureau.

History aside, this playoff matchup is an intriguing one for several reasons. Anchored by a former back-to-back MVP, the third-seeded Warriors are trying to get back to that Championship level. The Nuggets (6-seed) have an MVP of their own who is one of the prime candidates to win the award for the just completed 2021-22 regular season. Denver is still seeking their first NBA Championship in franchise history, but injuries could impact how far they ultimately go.

And speaking of injuries, both teams are affected by such. Stephen Curry’s status has yet to be determined, and Saturday will mark a month to the day since he last played in a game. Additionally, James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2020, has been ruled out for the season that never truly began for the 21-year-old center. In Denver, fans are holding out hope for the return of Jamal Murray, who tore his left ACL last April at Chase Center. Murray has resumed basketball activity and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to officially return to action at any point this series. Additionally, Michael Porter Jr., who underwent lumbar spine surgery late last year, is not expected to play this postseason.

HOW THE WARRIORS GOT HERE
The Warriors’ 2021-22 regular season was a bit of a roller coaster. The team started off hot and had the best record in the NBA through Jan. 3, but things would soon get rocky. On everyone's short list of top 2021-22 moments was Klay Thompson's return to the court after missing the previous two and a half seasons. But when one star returned, another one went down, as Draymond Green missed 29 games with what turned out be a disc injury in his lower back. And one game after Green returned in mid-March, Stephen Curry, the team's leading scorer at 25.5 points per game, suffered a sprained ligament in his left foot and hasn’t played a game since. The Warriors did manage to win nine-straight games while Green was out, but the team went 10-16 over February and March, which was the league’s worst record during that stretch among playoff teams. But with the threat of losing homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs looming, the Dubs flipped the script and won their last five regular season games to secure what was tied for the third best record (53-29) in the entire NBA.


During that early season hot streak, Curry, who became the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader in December, was back in MVP form, Draymond Green was putting himself back in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and Andrew Wiggins’ two-way play and improved perimeter shooting stroke landed him his first All-Star honor of his career. Injuries and the grind of the season took their toll on the Warriors, and it showed in the team’s overall record. Curry, Thompson and Green played in only 11 minutes together all season long, and even when players were back in the lineup, their performances weren’t always consistent.

But through all the ups and downs, Jordan Poole was a constant source of production for the Warriors who seemed to get better, and more aggressive, as the year on. Poole played in 76 games, second only to ironman Kevon Looney, and he averaged 23.4 points after the All-Star Break, seven points more than his pre-break output, and made more 3-pointers than anyone else in the league in March. Likewise, rookie Jonathan Kuminga took major strides in his development as the year went on, and by the time season ended he led all first-year players in scoring per 36 minutes (19.8). And perhaps most encouraging for Dub Nation was the way Klay Thompson closed the season, scoring 36, 33 and 41 points over his final three games, shooting at least 50 percent in each contest while averaging seven made threes in those games.

Top 20 Moments of 2021-22 Season

MATCHUP AT A GLANCE

Regular Season Stats
GSW DEN
53-29 48-34
3rd in West 6th in West
PTS: 111.0 (15th) PTS: 112.7 (10th)
REB: 45.5 (7th) REB: 44.1 (17th)
AST: 27.1 (5th) AST: 27.8 (3rd)

MATCHING UP WITH DENVER
During the regular season, each of the four Warriors-Nuggets matchups went down to the wire. Each team scored 439 points against one another this season, although Denver did win three out of the four head-to-head meetings with the Dubs. Curry led the Warriors in scoring in each of the three games he played against Denver this season, including 34 points in the most recent matchup in which the Dubs ended the game on a 13-0 run in a 113-102 win in Denver on March 10. Poole averaged 22.7 points and a team-best 6.3 assists against Denver this season, and rookie Moses Moody scored a career-high 30 points in the March 7 game in which the Dubs were without eight players, including Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins. For Denver, center Nikola Jokic was at the focal point of everything, as he averaged 28.0 points, 15.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists against the Warriors this season. Guard Monte Morris also hurt the Dubs, most notably with his game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in the 117-116 thriller at Chase Center on Feb. 16, the final game before the All-Star Break. » Look Back: 2021-22 Warriors Nuggets Head-to-Head Matchups

PREVIOUS GAME STARTERS
GSW: Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney
DEN: Monte Morris, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Nikola Jokić

INJURY & ROSTER NOTES
GSW: Stephen Curry (left foot sprain) is probable. James Wiseman (right knee injury management) is out. Team Notes

DEN: Jamal Murray (left knee injury recovery) and Michael Porter Jr. (lumbar spine surgery) are out. Team Notes

YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
While the Warriors are headlined with several players from their recent Championship past, the team that takes the floor at Chase Center will be remarkably different than the ones that have competed for Championships in the past. This will mark the first NBA postseason for Poole, Kuminga, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II, Moses Moody and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Otto Porter Jr. has played in multiple Game 7s during his 31 postseason games, but fellow veterans Wiggins and Nemanja Bjelica have played in just 12 combined games in the playoffs, including five each as teammates during Minnesota’s first round loss to the Rockets in 2018.

Of course, when it comes to playoff experience, some core Warriors have plenty of that. Curry, Green, Thompson and Iguodala, who were all part of the only prior Warriors-Nuggets playoff matchup in 2013, have all played more than 100 games with the Dubs in their postseason careers, and Looney has 42 postseason appearances under his belt. Curry averages 26.5 points and 6.3 assists in his postseason career, Klay Thompson has put up 19.3 points per game in his 123 postseason game and Draymond Green has been a near double-double over his seven prior NBA playoff appearances. Those four players, who were on the Warriors’ roster for all five prior NBA Finals runs, have played in 526 combined playoff games.

REGULAR SEASON TEAM LEADERS

GSW DEN
PTS: Curry (25.5) PTS: Jokic (27.1)
REB: Green (7.3) REB: Jokic (13.8)
AST: Green (7.0) AST: Jokic (7.9)

DENVER SCOUTING REPORT
This marks the fourth straight playoff appearance for the Nuggets, and they’ve made it out of the first round in each of the first three, including a thrilling run to the Western Conference Finals in 2020 when they won multiple Game 7s after trailing the series 3-1 in each of the first two rounds. Jamal Murray was a clutch performer in that run, but he has yet to a play a game this season due to his ongoing recovery from knee surgery. As a result, center Nikola Jokic has carried the load for Denver, and he has answered his 2020-21 MVP campaign with another season worthy of MVP discussion, ranking sixth in the league in scoring (27.1 ppg), second in rebounding (13.8 rpg) and eighth in assists (7.9 apg). Jokic had 19 triple-doubles this season, and he’s at the core of everything that Denver does.

Additionally, Aaron Gordon has picked up his play as of late, averaging 22 points over the last four games, and guard Monte Morris averaged 16.7 points against the Dubs this season. While Denver is in the middle of the pack in terms of 3-point takes and makes, they do have four players – Will Barton, Bones Hyland, Bryn Forbes and Monte Morris – averaging over 1.5 made threes per game, all of whom are shooting over 36 percent from distance.

The attention Jokic draws certainly opens up looks for his teammates, so it’s not surprising that Denver is third in the league in assists (27.8 apg) and second in shooting percentage (48.3 percent). How the Dubs deal with Jokic will certainly be an area to watch for as the NBA Playoffs tip off at Chase Center.

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