(Written for Blue Man Hoop)
Following a resounding Game 4 victory, the Golden State Warriors return to Denver to attempt to close out the series. The Warriors look to join the Heat and Spurs in the second round, while Denver is hoping defend their home-court.
Key Story: The Battle of the Point Guards:
Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson have been the two best players of the series, averaging 27.3 and 23.0 points per game respectively. The Nuggets have been committed to stopping Curry, but have not been successful. Lawson, meanwhile, has continually attacked the rim, scoring, kicking to shooters, and drawing fouls on Andrew Bogut.
Apart from the star point guard matchup, rebounding will be a determining factor. Denver had the highest offensive rebound percentage of any team in the league during the regular season, but has been out-rebounded by the Warriors in every game but Game 4.
X-Factor: The Nuggets Centers:
Both Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee have struggled throughout the series, and Karl has responded by limiting their playing time. The two centers have often appeared confused defending the pick and roll, and have struggled rebounding and scoring (stat). However, with the emergence of Andrew Bogut as a significant factor, Denver may be forced into playing their inconsistent centers. If McGee or Koufos can limit the Warriors effectiveness at the rim, while playing respectable pick and roll defense, they may drastically shift the momentum of this series.
Barring any timely miracles of modern science, Warriors’ all-star David Lee, and Nugget’s regular season leading scorer Danillo Gallanari will be out for Game 5 and the rest of the season, Lee with a torn hip flexor, and Gallanari with a torn ACL. After suffering an eye injury in Game 4, Stephen Curry is listed as probable, but barring a significant injury it is highly unlikely that he does not play.
Following Lee’s injury, Mark Jackson, as his counterpart George Karl so often has, ignored positional stereotypes, electing to play Harrison Barnes at power forward. The Jarrett Jack, Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Bogut starting lineup has an offensive rating of 119.4, and a defensive rating of only 94.6.
The Nuggets began the series starting Kosta Koufos at center, but in Game 4 started Lawson-Fournier-Iguodala-Chandler-Faried, likely believing with Chandler and Faried defending the Warriors’ screen-setters, they would better be able to pressure the Warriors’ pick and roll offense.
How the Warriors Can Win:
After four games, the Warriors appear to have a pretty effective formula for beating the Denver Nuggets. They rely on Curry and Jack’s scoring and passing to create offense, attack in transition, and play aggressive defense. Denver appeared resigned to defeat after Game 4, but may have renewed energy before their home crowd. To beat the Nuggets, the Warriors will have to avoid any prolonged offensive or defensive struggles, as they have through most of the series, and prevent Denver from finding the offensive rhythm they have lacked throughout the series.
How the Nuggets Can Win:
With Koufos, McGee, and Faried struggling, Denver has failed to rebound consistently against the Warriors. The Denver offense was supported by a high offensive rebounding rate, and an impressive transition attack, both of which have failed to consistently manifest themselves versus the Warriors. If Denver can take advantage of the Warriors in transition, as many expected them to do before the series, and earn a few extra possessions, they should be able to prolong the series.