Editor’s note:Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
It is hard to believe that the postseason is only halfway over for the teams that make it to the NBA Finals.
After an uncomfortable six-game series with the Los Angeles Clippers and a historically close semifinals battle with the Houston Rockets, the Warriors must feel like the playoffs have already been going on for a few months. When you think back to all the storylines that have already occurred, like the Kevin Durant and Pat Beverley fiasco, the injury to DeMarcus Cousins, the 31-point collapse, Durant’s incredible run, the sprained ankles, the Rockets’ complaint memo, James Harden’s eye, Steph Curry’s finger, Durant’s calf and the Warriors “Strength in Numbers” Game 6 in Houston, this postseason has been especially eventful so far.
And it has only been two rounds.
So now the Warriors must refocus and turn their sights to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are playing confidently right now after an epic series against the Denver Nuggets, but they must rest up quickly and get ready for the Western Conference finals after their emotional Game 7 victory Sunday. Meanwhile, the Warriors have had a much-needed break from action, allowing them to nurse their injuries and relax tired legs.
But after an all-out effort to defeat the Rockets, the Warriors could find themselves in a vulnerable position. While Portland is still a dangerous team, they do not make the Warriors as uncomfortable as Houston. The Blazers play a style of basketball much more relatable to the Warriors brand and pace, and it is all to easy to envision Golden State relaxing in their mental approach to this series. Whether it is apathy, boredom or simply looking ahead, it has been well-chronicled how the Warriors take their foot off the pedal on occasion.
As Monte Poole wrote, perhaps Kevin Durant’s probable absence for the beginning of the series will inspire the Warriors to stay focused, or maybe not.
If the Warriors come out with anywhere near the effort they displayed in Houston on Friday night, they should be just fine. The big question then (given Durant’s absence) will be who will start for the Warriors and how will the rotation go? It is reasonable to believe that Steve Kerr will run out the same starting lineup from Houston, with Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut.
The Blazers have been starting Enes Kanter at the center spot so far these playoffs, and he has played pretty well. Kanter is an effective scorer who can step out and hit a mid-range shot, with his real strength being on the glass as a great rebounder. Bogut should be able to help as a big body to move Kanter away from the offensive boards.
On defense, however, Kanter can be exploited. If the Warriors decide to simply run a high-ball screen with Bogut for Curry, then Steph will easily be able to expose Kanter following a switch. If the Blazers start blitzing and trapping Steph as the Rockets did in Game 6, then like that game, Draymond will set the screens and become the primary playmaker facing a vulnerable defense.
For the Warriors on defense, the coaching staff will do everything in their power to stop Curry from getting into foul trouble, which most likely means that Klay and Iguodala will be the primary defenders on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In this scenario, Draymond will be positioned against players that he will be able to help off from, and enable him to play his most-effective role as “free safety” on defense, blowing up plays and having free reign to terrorize an offense.
Halfway through the first quarter, Kevon Looney will most likely enter for Andrew Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie will replace Iguodala.
The big question for the Warriors will be who starts the second and fourth quarters. The team has consistently employed lineups with Klay, Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston in that unit, but the other two spots are up for grabs with Durant out. Jonas Jerebko has recently seen his playing time increase, helping space the floor with his outside shooting. Quinn Cook also got some run last game and played effectively after Steph sat in foul trouble.
One player to keep an eye on after a surprise appearance in Houston is Jordan Bell. He has been out of the rotation for some time, but when called upon in Game 6, Bell was solid in 11 minutes of action.
The Blazers, other than Kanter and rookie Zach Collins, are a team made up of quick guards and undersized wings and power-forwards. Bell could be the beneficiary of the change in styles from Houston’s streamlined and slow, precision game to Portland’s quicker paced, more free-flowing offense.
At the very least, if Bogut or Looney were to get into foul trouble, it would be almost a certainty that Bell would get the call.
[RELATED:KD reportedly is likely to be out for first two games vs. Blazers]
If the Warriors can take care of home court without Durant, the training staff may be more patient with his rehabilitation.
It is up to the Warriors’ bench to step up and provide the jolt of energy and effort that the team needs to succeed.