With their playoff hopes all but dashed, the Portland Trail Blazers look to find some redeeming peace of mind in Oakland tonight. After an embarrassing loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and a heartbreaking 4th quarter meltdown last night, it may be difficult for the Blazers to regain traction and end this late season skid; especially without 2 time all star, LaMarcus Aldridge. With the Warriors jockeying for playoff position and the Blazers determined to win back their pride, don’t expect either team to give any ground in the Oracle Arena tonight.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF J.J. Hickson, C Meyers Leonard
Warriors Starting 5: PG Stephen Curry, SG Klay Thompson, SF Harrison Barnes, PF David Lee, C Andrew Bogut
This game will likely be decided in the matchups. The starters for both teams play remarkably similar styles; Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry are both scoring point guards, favoring the deep game, but capable of high level facilitation. Wesley Matthews and Klay Thompson are both high energy guards with prolific 3 point shooting. J.J. Hickson and David Lee are among the league leaders in double doubles, 5th and 1st respectively.
The mismatches come at small forward and center. Nicolas Batum far outmatches rookie, Harrison Barnes. Look for Batum to be a difference maker in this one. Head Coach, Terry Stotts, likes to use him and his long arms to obstruct the passing lanes on defense, and his vital play making judgment to create opportunities for his teammates on offense. The Frenchman will be called upon to make everyone better.
Unfortunately, this brings us to the Centers. Andrew Bogut (Golden State’s prize of the Monta Ellis trade) is prepared to dominate the struggling Meyers Leonard. Although Leonard’s potential has become more apparent in recent weeks, I am unimpressed with his defensive play thus far. Bogut, however, is a seasoned vet who, when healthy, can push a team over the top with his inside presence. Don’t be surprised if Leonard is the chink in Portland’s armor.
Despite the frontcourt handful Portland will have to battle, they DO have one not-so-secret weapon. Last time these young teams clashed in the Oracle, Damian Lillard went off for a career high 37 points in a 97-103 loss. Lillard grew up in Oakland and has quite the cluster of friends and family that support him in the crowd. The so-called ‘6th man’ effect his road supporters provide may be enough to give him the boost he needs to pack the stat sheet. Expect Golden State to prepare for the red hot Rookie of the Year candidate to be on fire.
The biggest issue the Blazers face tonight is one that has plagued them all season; depth. The Warriors are spilling over with quality role players off the bench. Jarrett Jack, Kent Bazemore, Draymond Green, Carl Landry, Festus Ezeli. I love Eric Maynor as much as the next guy, but our list of auxiliary answers ends there. Expect the undermanned Blazers to be battling exhaustion as well in the latter half of this back to back.
What to watch for:
- Damian Lillard to ramp up his aggressive play and get to the line. He is an excellent free throw shooter and it is important that he split the probable double team and force the foul.
- Nicolas Batum to force turnovers like there is no tomorrow. Steals, blocks, strong contests, help defense; his contributions may be Portland’s biggest line of defense against Golden State’s up-tempo offense.
- Wesley Matthews to match Thompson and Curry shot for shot. He cannot afford to have an off game. There will be rain in California tonight; it’s Wesley’s job to make sure the Warriors bear the brunt of the storm.
- Perhaps most importantly, J.J. Hickson, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver must be able to stop David Lee and Andrew Bogut. Lee is fresh off his 6th consecutive double double and will be poised to put up another. If the shorthanded Blazers frontcourt can keep him off the boards, Portland may survive with a W.