Warriors Seek to End Series In Denver

(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.


Injury Report: 
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.

Starting lineups:

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.

Warriors Open Playoffs in Denver


(Written for Blue Man Hoop)

Western Conference Player of the Month Stephen Curry and the Warriors enter Denver to kick off their 3rd playoff series in the last 17 years.  The Nuggets, 57-25, finished the season with the league’s 5th best point differential despite having the 10th most difficult schedule according to basketball-reference’s rating system.  The 6th seeded, 47-35 Warriors finished with the 11th best point differential after playing through the 11th most difficult schedule.  At 38-3, the Denver Nuggets had the league’s best home record during the regular season.

The Warriors lost the season series to Denver 3-1, including a 101-107 double overtime loss in Oakland, however Andrew Bogut did not play in any of their meetings.  Additionally, the Nuggets will be without forward Danillo Gallanari, who suffered a season ending ACL tear, and possibly without Kenneth Faried, who suffered a severe ankle sprain.  The Nuggets hope to replace Gallanari’s production by increasing the offensive responsibility of Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, and, in the last few games, rookie Evan Fournier.

Though both are known for a quick pace, the Nuggets and Warriors are surprisingly dissimilar teams.  The Nuggets played the second fastest pace in the league at 95.1 possessions per game, while the Warriors were 4th at 94.5, according to basketball-reference, however they vary greatly in most other facets.  This game, and much of the series, may be determined by a team’s ability to control the rebounding battle.  The Nuggets finished with a league-leading 31.4 percent offensive rebound percentage, however the Warriors may be equipped to limit the Nuggets extra possessions, as the led the league with a 75.5 percent defensive rebound percentage after finishing last in the 2011-2012 season.

The Nuggets and Warriors also differ in offensive strategy.  Denver attempts the most shots at the rim per game and struggle from deep, while the Warriors tend to focus on finding threes, often at the expense of aggressiveness to the paint.  The Nuggets appear to be especially concerned with Steph Curry.  Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson told the Associated Press, ““Just be physical with him. He wants to shoot, so don’t give him too much space. Just make him drive. Even when he does drive, he wants to step back and get a jump shot.”

Though the Nuggets will focus on Curry, Klay Thompson will be key to a Warriors’ victory in the series-opener.  The Nuggets will likely Andre Iguolada, one of the league’s premier defenders, onto Curry, often leaving Thompson matched up with smaller guard Ty Lawson.  Thompson’s ability to score on Lawson will help the Warriors dictate matchups throughout the series, and is especially vital on the Nuggets home court.

Warriors Take on Spurs in Final Home Game (4/15/13)

(Written for Fansided.com’s Blue Man Hoop)

In what may be a first round preview, the 45-35, currently 7th seeded Warriors face the 58-22, 2nd seeded San Antonio Spurs in Oakland.  Much to the dismay of those who believe in the predictive power of single game samples, Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich has chosen to rest the injured Tony Parker, elderly Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard, who will join Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobli on the Spurs bench.  Though Popovich appears to have surrendered the top seed in the western conference to the Thunder, who enter tonight with a single game lead and season record tiebreaker over the Spurs, the result has playoff implications for the Warriors.  The Rockets, whom the Warriors trail for the sixth seed by virtue of the season series tiebreak, play the Phoenix Suns tonight.  Though the game is in Phoenix, the Rockets are heavy favorites to win.  To keep pace with the Rockets and maintain distance from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors must win tonight.

This game against the depleted Spurs and the season finale versus the “injury-riddled and definitely not tanking” Trailblazers present an opportunity for the Warriors to develop the confidence and execution they will need in the playoffs, and though any playoff opponent is capable of disrupting the Warriors’ momentum, after being blown out in Oklahoma City and disappointed in Los Angeles, a resounding win would be a welcome change.

With Tim Duncan in the game, the Spurs allow 99.3 points per 100 possessions.  When he sits, the defense falters, allowing 103.4 (basketball reference).  Expect the Warriors to take advantage of Duncan’s absence to penetrate off the pick and roll.  Though Tiago Splitter is a decent pick and roll defender, allowing 1.01 points per field goal attempt by the roll man, per mysynergysports.com, without Duncan in the game, the Spurs’ tendency to “ice” high pick and rolls will draw Splitter out of position to defend the roll man, leaving defenders far less experienced and talented than Duncan to help.

In what is a relatively rare occurrence in Warriors’ history, the Warriors should be expected to win this game.