Western Conference Finals: Portland Trailblazers vs. Golden State Warriors—Series Preview

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors

Game 1 Time: 8 PM (CT) ESPN

Game 1 Spread: GSW -7.5

Game 1 Total: 220.5

Odds c/o 5dimes

The Portland Trail Blazers were not expected to be here, but Damian Lillard has emerged as one of the NBA’s true superstars and guided his team to a collision with the vaunted Golden State Warriors. Golden State is 7.5-point favorites in Game 1, which will be played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. The over/under is set at 220.5 points, according to NBA Oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.

In looking at this game, and the series, let us take a preview of the positional breakdown between these teams.

Backcourt: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum vs. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

This backcourt matchup will define the series, as the top two backcourts in the league (somewhat arguably, with due respect to the Houston Rockets) collide in a seven-game series. Both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were hot last series, as Kevin Durant rested in Game 6 just to see Curry carry the Dubs to an upset victory over the Rockets. But Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been just as hot. Lillard has averaged 28.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and six assists in the postseason while playing over 40 minutes a game, and McCollum has averaged 25.6 points, five rebounds, and 5.8 assists playing just a shade less than Lillard.

This pair is absolutely required to be hot for Portland to stay in this series. The “Splash Brothers” may be the better shooting tandem, but Lillard and McCollum excel in other areas, and Lillard is the best at getting to the rim and creating offense.

Curry and Thompson have combined to average 42.6 points per game this postseason, which trails the combination of Lillard and McCollum by 12.4 points per game. But the Warriors are obviously also a more well-rounded team that does not rely so heavy on its 1-2 combination in the backcourt. It might seem strange to say this, but the advantage goes to Portland, if only because the Blazers delegate a much heavier role to its guards.

Edge: Portland (due to usage/role)

Frontcourt:  Mo Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter vs. Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

Both these teams are likely without their true starting centers. Jusuf Nurkic has missed the entirety of the postseason, and DeMarcus Cousins is listed as doubtful/questionable, as he may appear in this series some. Even so, the Warriors are a better team with Kevon Looney’s defensive talents, because Golden State has few issues scoring the ball, and Cousins simply weakens its defense. Beyond that, the Blazers have relied heavily on Enes Kanter, and Golden State will need Draymond Green and Looney’s mobility to slow the offensive-minded Kanter.

Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu both are not really key starters for the Blazers, although Aminu is capable of making big impacts with his hustle plays. He fails in the consistency area. Andre Iguodala adds the veteran leadership and defensive abilities that will help a lot, as he may draw some of the defensive duties against either Lillard or McCollum to allow Curry and Thompson to focus more heavily on their offensive roles. Regardless of that, the offense is going to be coming from the backcourts and these front courts are primarily role players, in varying degrees. It is hard to say either team has a tremendous advantage in the front court, although Green stands out as a possible series-changer, and Kanter can certainly have his nights.

Edge: Golden State, by a hair

Benches:

The Golden State Warriors are relying on its reserves less than usual in the 2019 postseason. Shaun Livingston still plays his role as a backup guard in the rotation, but outside of him, few Warriors have made much of a difference this playoff season. Portland, conversely, relies heavily on two of its bench players: Zach Collins and Rodney Hood. Hood sustained a lower leg injury that might limit him, but it is not yet determined how many minutes he will play, or if he faces minute-restrictions. Collins has been sensational as a defender and rebounder, even adding some offense.

The Blazers are a better defensive team with Collins on the court, and with Golden State’s offensive prowess it is not unlikely that the Blazers turn more to Collins than starting center Enes Kanter. Portland has not been known for its depth, but when its depth comes in the form of two talents both capable of a starting role, it is apparent how important Hood and Collins have been to the Blazers success.

While Golden State has previously been known as a really deep team, with Kevin Durant and Cousins both sitting out most likely, it eats into that depth by promoting Iguodala and Looney to starting roles. Due to injuries, and that factor alone, the Blazers’ bench certainly plays a bigger and more important role in this series than the Warriors who are likely to play its starters heavy, long minutes.

Edge: Portland

The Final Word

Even with Portland’s backcourt having an outstanding series and its bench taking the edge, the Warriors synergy somehow gives it the advantage and keeps Golden State favored in this series. But bettors should hardly count the Blazers out in this. Portland has played excellent defense, and it has shown in the past it is able to hang with Golden State.

Portland led at halftime in the first three games the last time these teams collided, so sustaining strong play over 48-minutes may be the Blazers’ top goal in its list of things to accomplish. If the Blazers are able to continue to get its backcourt going while slowing Golden State’s, this series could be a real statement maker for Lillard and company. While many are calling a Warriors’ sweep, that hardly seems to be in the making. This series probably will go the distance, and Golden State should count itself lucky that its homecourt advantage gives it the slight edge in a series that should be closer than many pundits and oddsmakers expect it to be.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

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