With Stephen Curry at least out for two weeks due to a sprained MCL, the big question on Warriors and NBA fans’ minds is whether or not the Warriors will still capitalize on their record-setting 73 win season and finish with a NBA title. Or will the Warriors have the biggest letdown in NBA history and not even make the Finals, let alone win the championship?
With their reigning (and possibly repeating) MVP possibly out for an extended period of time, there is major concern in terms of how the Warriors will fare in the coming rounds of the Western Conference playoffs. Though it is not over, the Warriors should close out the Houston Rockets will relative ease, which brings the focus to the second round of the playoffs. Yes, I know everyone is looking ahead to the Western Conference playoffs where a Spurs-Warriors “Super-Matchup” looms (though don’t count out the Thunder who are playing great “F***You” ball right now (especially Kevin Durant, who was all kinds of salty and spitting straight fire to Mark Cuban after their Game 5 win) after dismantling the Mavericks after a Game 2 let down), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Every round counts, and there are still two possibly dangerous (though flawed) opponents waiting in the second round that could give the Warriors trouble, especially sans-Curry.
So, with that being said, let’s take a look at the possible matchups for the Warriors in the second round and how big a threat they pose to the Warriors from making into the Western Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Clippers
A week ago, this matchup would have had the Warriors and Warriors fans sweating. Without Curry, the Warriors would be depending on Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston matching up against CP3. Add that problem along with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, not to mention a playoff-experienced (though insufferable) coach in Doc Rivers, as well as some fiery history between the two franchises, and the Clippers seemed poised to pull off an upset for the ages in the second round.
However, that has all changed in the past couple of days. Blake Griffin was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs, and then Chris Paul broke his hand in Game 4 against the Blazers, ruling him out until the NBA Finals should the Clippers get that far. That means the Clippers will be relying on DeAndre Jordan, who is only a shade better than Andre Drummond when it comes to shooting free throws, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Green to carry them to victory against the still-loaded Warriors. Losing Griffin is a tough blow, but in all frankness, the Clippers got through most of the regular season without him. Losing Paul however is a death knell. To not have their floor general and main facilitator, and replacing him with Austin Rivers is a MAJOR downgrade. Livingston and Barbosa should not be able to just handle him, but they most likely will outplay him extensively on the offensive and defensive end of the ball.
Now, this could be a breakout series for Jordan. After all, he nearly left the Clippers because he wanted to be the “main guy” on the team and didn’t want to be in the shadow of anyone (hence a dig at Paul and Griffin until they came over with some Raising Cane’s and mended the turmoil in one hilariously chronicled night on Twitter). Ironically, Jordan will now get the chance to do what he could’ve in Dallas (be the main man), though I’m sure that’s not what he expected when he re-signed with the Clippers this off-season. Jordan will need to be a beast on both ends, and go up and above what he normally contributes to give the Clippers a chance in this series. Redick and Crawford are good, but Redick is more of a complimentary player, and Crawford is a streaky player who can rescue a team one night and sink them the next.
What keeps me from thinking though Jordan will reach “Superstar” status and help the Clippers upset the Warriors in this series though is his free throw shooting (or lack thereof). Yes, Drummond of the Pistons replaced him as the “Superstar player you can’t play in the 4th quarter because he is so dog crap with free throws.” However, Jordan still is pretty sub-par in a pretty essential category, as evidenced by his 43 percent FT percentage this season, and his 619 free throws this season were a career-high, which is evidence that teams have caught on to his glaring weakness, and fouled him in key moments to give themselves an advantage to stay in games or preserve leads. I don’t see Jordan turning around that miserable stat in the second round, which means that the Clippers might not have anybody on the floor at times in the 4th that they can really go to with any confidence in crunch time. That’s a huge detriment to their team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the reasons why the Clippers fail to get out of the first round against the Blazers.
If Paul and Jordan were in this series, I would be worried about the Warriors without Curry. But not only will the Warriors be able to neutralize Rivers, Redick and Crawford without Curry, but the Clippers’ biggest strength (Jordan) will also be neutralized by the Warriors’ depth in the post with Andrew Bogut, Mareese Speights and Festus Ezeli. Bogut and Ezeli will be able to bang with Jordan down low, and Speights can stretch Jordan out of the paint with his outside mid-range shooting, which will clear the lanes for the Warriors’ perimeter players, especially Green and Thompson. And if worse comes to worse, James Michael Mcadoo can come in, foul the crap out of Jordan without regard (I mean he has six fouls for a reason, right?) and give breathers to the trio above as they watch Jordan apply for membership to the Bricklayers Union at the line.
And remember…Cole Aldrich is the Clippers’ backup center.
Projection if it’s the Clippers: Warriors in Four (Five at the most, if the Warriors shoot like a crap house in one game).
The Portland Trail Blazers
This series is definitely the more intriguing second-round matchup for NBA fans, and probably a lot more worrisome for Warriors fans. Unlike the Clippers, who will be relying on Jordan in the post to succeed in the playoffs from here on out, the Blazers biggest producers come from the guard positions. While Rivers should be easy to contain for Livingston and Barbosa, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be much tougher tasks, as they are the main focus of the Trail Blazers offense. Furthermore, the Blazers also had one of the more dynamic wins against the Warriors, as they beat the Warriors 137-105 in spectacular fashion at the Moda Center on February 19th. To show how big Lillard and McCollum were in that series, Dame and CJ were responsible for 72 of the Blazers 137 points (with Lillard scoring 51) and 46 of the Blazers’ 97 shot attempts. And that is with Curry on the floor. It is frightening to think what the Blazers will do without Curry in the lineup this series.
However, there are a couple of things to consider this series that will work in the Warriors’ favor:
- The Blazers lack depth, especially in the post. The Blazers play a nine-deep lineup, and the lack of Meyers Leonard this series is going to hurt them. Ed Davis is a good physical hustle player and Mason Plumlee is a serviceable starting center, but he should be neutralized against the Warriors trio of Bogut, Speights and Ezeli. And though Noah Vonleh has stepped up in Leonard’s absence, I don’t trust the second-year player to do much damage, especially considering he has showed issues with keeping his composure at times on the floor. If there is one thing the Warriors do very well, especially in the post, is that they “dirty” it up much more than one thinks. The Warriors have a reputation as a “finesse” team because of Thompson and Curry, but when you go beyond the duo, the Warriors actually are one of the more physical teams in the league, especially in the post. I can see the Warriors frustrating the hell out of the Blazers’ post players, and I don’t think the Blazers will be able to combat that, especially considering this Blazers team is pretty green when it comes to deep playoff experience.
- I think the Warriors hold multiple advantages beyond the guard positions. As big a surprise as Al-Farouq Aminu has been, I don’t know how he will do against Draymond Green, who is such a versatile and physical player. Furthermore, I think Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless and Gerald Henderson will have their issues, not just against Green, but against Klay Thompson as well. And, as crazy as it sounds, while I think Dame will get his share of point (as well as big time moments) in this series, I think the Warriors will really focus on shutting down McCollum this series with a combo of Thompson and Green (with them alternating matchups with Aminu). While Dame has had his highs against the Warriors in their season series (Dame also scored 40 in their first game with the Warriors this season), McCollum hasn’t hit the 20 point mark in any of their four games this year. Add that with an much more intense playoff atmosphere, and I doubt he’ll crack 20 in the playoffs, which I think is needed if the Blazers realistically think they can win four games this series against the defending champs. I think Dame will have a big game, and he may win a game or even two in this series by himself. But the Blazers will need McCollum to really shine above and beyond for the Blazers to pull the upset, and I don’t see that happening. I think the Warriors perimeter players, knowing they will need to step up without Curry on the floor, will focus even more so on the defensive end in terms of stopping McCollum, thus making the Blazers more of a one-man show, which will not be enough.
This possible second-round matchup will definitely be a more entertaining series than the Clippers one (especially considering the Blazers’ willingness to push the pace). However, even without Curry, I think the Warriors’ depth will simply be too much for the young Blazers to handle. The youth is just too much of a detriment, I don’t necessarily see the Blazers matching the Warriors’ physicality, and though Terry Stotts has proven himself as a mainstay in the NBA, his record is pretty suspect when it comes to the playoffs (he has never gone beyond the second round). The Blazers will put up a hell of a fight, and I think Lillard will showcase why he is one of the more underrated superstars in this league, but I think the Warriors hold too many advantages in other positions for the Blazers to pose as a threat.
Prediction: Warriors in Five (maybe six if they get two CRAZY games from Lillard).