With Blazers center Nurkic out, the Warriors are too big to fail

With Blazers center Nurkic out, the Warriors are too big to fail

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 3 coverage starts Saturday night at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

OAKLAND -- The Warriors won Game 1 by 12 despite being torched by Portland’s two best players, and they dominated Game 2 without their most efficient player. They know where this is headed, and so do the Trail Blazers.

Even as this first-round series shifts to Portland this weekend, even as Blazers forward Maurice Harkless insists Game 3 represents the “must-win” phase, it is 96 minutes from its conclusion.

The sweep is on and it’s a shame. This could have been a mildly intriguing series if not for the absence of Jusuf Nurkic leaving Portland with a gaping hole at center.

Things being as they are, though, Warriors big man JaVale McGee can eat all he wants. Through two games, he has 21 points, on 10-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots. Coming off the bench in both games, he has inflicted this damage in less than 23 minutes.

Starting center Zaza Pachulia and primary backup David West aren’t facing any more real resistance.

“Without Nurkic, they're basically playing smaller lineups,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So we're just trying to mix and match at that five spot and find the right combination.”

All combinations have been effective, largely because Portland as currently constituted is the least imposing team in the playoffs. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are fabulous; they’re also 6-foot-3 guards trying to carry a prohibitive underdog. These are not the Blazers that soared into the playoffs with a stirring six-week stretch run. They had a legitimate NBA center for most of that stretch.

Now they have none. With Nurkic on the sideline, there is not the scantest rumor of a competitive series.

Let’s face it: Portland wouldn’t be here without Nurkic, who was sensational after being acquired in trade on Feb. 13. The 7-foot “Bosnian Beast” became the first Blazer to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in his first 20 games since 1978, when Klay Thompson’s father, Mychal, managed the feat. The Blazers were 14-5 when Nurkic started, 27-36 in their other 63 games.

And now, thanks to a fractured leg, Nurkic is sitting. Down 2-0, it would be silly and ultra-risky for the Blazers to bring him back for Game 3 on Saturday and downright pointless to summon him for Game 4 Monday.

Meanwhile, backup center Ed Davis is recovering from shoulder surgery. The only other legitimate center on the roster, our good friend Festus Ezeli, has not played a single minute this season and is rehabbing his knee.

So the Blazers are left with Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu -- a stretch-5 and two relatively ordinary power forwards.

“You don't have time to think about that, Lillard said of Nurkic’s absence. “If you look at a guy and say, man, if we had Nurk, it would be different, we'd be down 20 by the time they turn their head back around.”

Just as there is reason to believe the Blazers will put forth their best before their fans at Moda Center, there also is reason to believe it absolutely will not matter.

The Warriors are up 2-0 even with Thompson shooting 36.4 percent. They’re up 2-0 with Stephen Curry negating his 10 assists with nine turnovers. They’re up 2-0 with Kevin Durant playing in only one of two games.

They’re up 2-0 while still idling because they pose problems for which the Blazers have zero answers, such as the concept of JaVale McGee as an unstoppable force.

“We can't allow JaVale McGee to come in and impact the game the way he has,” Lillard said. “We've seen him play a number of games, and he has his moments. But he's not coming in doing what he's been doing in these first two games. We've got to try to limit that if we want a chance to win games.”

A glance at the Portland “big men” leaves us with a single question: How?

With Green listed as doubtful, expect Warriors to rely on rookie Jordan Bell


With Green listed as doubtful, expect Warriors to rely on rookie Jordan Bell

After getting a rude “Welcome to the NBA” facial from Rockets guard Eric Gordon in his debut Tuesday night, Warriors rookie Jordan Bell stands to get a more legitimate baptism Friday night in New Orleans.

That’s where Pelicans All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will be waiting, eager to abuse the new guy.

With starting power forward Draymond Green listed as doubtful with a strained left knee -- MRI test results were negative -- Bell can expect significant minutes when the Warriors and Pelicans meet at Smoothie King Center.

Aware Green’s availability is in question, Bell sees what’s ahead in Davis and Cousins, as they both possess skills that rank among the top five big men.

“I’m definitely excited about that,” Bell said Wednesday. “(They are) some of the best bigs in the league, so I’m definitely excited to get tested against that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr generally avoids tinkering with his set rotations, in which case David West and JaVale McGee would continue to come off the bench at center. Of the other “bigs” on the roster, Bell is most likely to start if Green is unable.

Bell played 12 minutes in the opener, and they were in slots that typically go to McGee, who never left the bench against Houston. Citing the matchups created by the Rockets’ smallish lineups, Kerr opted for the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Bell over the 7-foot, 270-pound McGee.

That will change Friday, regardless of Green’s status, as both Bell and McGee will be needed against Davis and Cousins, both of whom possess wing spans over 7 feet. Only Bell is suited to play power forward or center, and the staff is coaching him at both positions.

“At the 4, I have to be more of a facilitator, like (Green) is,” Bell said. “Some plays (Kerr) has me doing the same things Draymond does. Sometimes he has me bring the ball up in practice. Calling plays, putting me in positions on the elbows to make the right pass, make the right read.

“When I’m at the 5, I have to be more of an aggressor, a more physical guy on the court, focusing on rebounding and finishing around the rim.”

It’s exceedingly rare for a second-round draft pick to start a game in his first week as an NBA player. The Warriors believe Bell can handle it. So in the case of Green being held out, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the rookie’s name is called.


Report: Draymond Green receives results on left knee MRI


Report: Draymond Green receives results on left knee MRI

The Golden State Warriors and Dubnation have been holding their breath a bit awaiting the results of Draymond Green's MRI. 

They can breathe a little better now. 

According to ESPN, the forward underwent an MRI on his left knee and results came back negative. 

Green left Tuesday's game against the Rockets one point shy of a triple double after 28 minutes of work. 

The Warriors were left in a defensive deficit in his absence and ultimatley lost to the Rockets 122-121. 

More to come...