Nikola Jokic will be barometer for DeMarcus Cousins' playoff readiness

Nikola Jokic will be barometer for DeMarcus Cousins' playoff readiness

OAKLAND -- DeMarcus Cousins has 18 games to make his case for consistent minutes in the postseason. His opening argument begins Friday night at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors face the Denver Nuggets.

It’s a crucial game for both teams, as the Warriors have a one-game lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference and are pursuing the No. 1 overall seed.

It’s a statement game for Cousins, who will be the primary defender on Nikola Jokic, Denver’s 7-foot big man who is concluding the best season by any center in the conference and perhaps the entire NBA.

Because his skills are so comprehensive, Jokic is the perfect opponent to test the defense of an individual (Cousins) and team (the Warriors). He orchestrates much of Denver’s offense; he is tied for fifth in the NBA in assists (7.7) per game and can score at every level, shooting 50.5 percent overall and 32.1 percent from deep.

He’ll be the most challenging opponent Cousins has seen since in five weeks -- since facing 76ers big man Joel Embiid on Jan. 31 -- and can provide an accurate indication of how far Boogie, who made his Warriors debut on Jan. 18, has progressed.

Cousins has been a frequent scapegoat for the Warriors’ many defensive weaknesses. Some of the criticism is deserved, much of it not. He can be slow to rotate, resulting in reaching, which is a quick ticket to foul trouble. He is coming off a yearlong layoff to recover from a severe injury.

He also doesn’t get a lot of help. The Warriors’ defensive statistics have been similar with (108.6 rating) or without Cousins (108.9).

“Our defense has been horse---t no matter who’s in there,” Draymond Green, who also can expect to see plenty of Jokic, conceded this week.

In the wake of being routed 128-95 by the Celtics on Tuesday, coach Steve Kerr mentioned pick-and-roll coverage while citing a need to “simplify” the defense.

“The details defensively always matter, and then the competitive desire on top of that,” said Kerr, singling out pick-and-roll coverage. “If you put all that together, you’ve got a good formula. We’ve got enough defensive-minded players to get it done. We’ll get it done.”

Green said he would make it his personal mission to catalyze the defense, which this season is No. 16 in the league, 15th since Cousins was activated. The Warriors will need to be better, collectively and individually, to succeed in the postseason.

Warriors-Nuggets is about as “postseason” as it gets in March. They could face each other in May, and there is no question Cousins will want to log as many minutes as possible against as many opponents as possible.

[RELATED: Ask Kerith: What's Bogut's fit with Boogie, on Warriors?]

The only potential playoff opponent against whom Cousins can expect a reduced role is Houston, where 6-10 center Clint Capela relies on quickness and athleticism.

Most of the others, including Jokic, tend to fall into the category of “classic” centers, big bodies that rely largely on physicality and finesse.

Cousins is on trial for a new contract. He wants to shine, and doing that in a marquee game against an All-Star center would be, for him and for the Warriors, about as good as it can get at this stage of the season.

Matt Barnes trolls Russell Westbrook in Kevin Durant-Pat Beverley tweet

Matt Barnes trolls Russell Westbrook in Kevin Durant-Pat Beverley tweet

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders on Sunday morning at 11, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

In Thursday night's Game 3, the Warriors led the Clippers 73-52 at halftime.

When he walked off the court after the first 24 minutes, Kevin Durant had scored 27 points (10-of-15 shooting) and dished out four assists.

Before the third quarter started, former Warriors forward Matt Barnes took to Twitter to let his feelings be known.

This tweet receives a 10 out of 10.

Barnes, of course, is referring to Durant's former teammate, Russell Westbrook, who went 5 of 20 from the field in Oklahoma City's Game 2 loss in Portland on Tuesday night.

Durant received a lot of backlash from the media for how he handled facing Patrick Beverley in the first two games of the NBA playoff series (mostly Game 2).

[RELATEDNBA rescinds Durant's technical foul from Game 3 vs. Clips]

Warriors coach Steve Kerr even told reporters that he wanted to see a much more aggressive KD in Game 3.

With his 38-point outbust, the reigning two-time NBA Finals MVP gave everybody what they were looking for.

Follow @DrewShiller on Twitter and Instagram

Steve Kerr reveals area he trusts Kevin Durant more than Steph Curry

Steve Kerr reveals area he trusts Kevin Durant more than Steph Curry

Steve Kerr is a great coach, but his job is made easier by the fact that he has two of the NBA’s top five players in Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

Having superstars like Durant and Curry allows Kerr to let the Warriors play freely, as he can trust his stars to handle any situation thrown at them.

Well, almost any situation.

During the first quarter of the Warriors' 132-105 shellacking of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 of their first-round NBA playoff series Thursday night, Durant was hit with two early fouls. Normally, this would force a coach to sit his star player so he doesn't pick up a third foul. 

But Kerr stuck with Durant in a show of faith, one he might not give Curry.

"We trust him to play with fouls,” Kerr said after the game. “Not sure I trust Steph to play with fouls, but I trust Kevin.”

Curry has picked up a few unnecessary fouls early in the series, getting caught reaching in when he would be well served to play straight up and avoid having to sit on the bench due to foul trouble.

[RELATED: Dubs reportedly complained to NBA about Beverley's defense on KD]

Kerr didn't follow his own intuition Thursday, though, as he elected to also leave Curry in the game after the guard picked up two early fouls.

Both Durant and Curry rewarded Kerr's faith in them.

Durant poured in 38 points, and Curry spearheaded a late first-quarter run that stretched the Warriors’ lead to 20 and put the game out of reach early.