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.

Steph Curry loves idea of Draymond Green shooting more for Warriors

Steph Curry loves idea of Draymond Green shooting more for Warriors

Draymond Green's most prolific shooting seasons came in the two years before Kevin Durant joined the Warriors.

In 2014-15, the first year of the Warriors' historic NBA Finals run, Green averaged 9.7 shots per game. The next season he averaged a career-high 10.1 shots.

Once Durant arrived in 2016, Green became the fourth option for the Warriors and peaked at 8.8 shots per game in 2017-18.

But with Durant now in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson is on the mend, Green will likely get close to his career high again, and teammate Steph Curry is all for it.

“I love it,” Curry told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. “That’s what you want to see.”

Curry and new Warriors guard D'Angelo Russell will shoulder a bulk of the scoring until Thompson returns, but with so many young, unproven players on the roster, Green will need to score in order for the Warriors to win games.

For reference, Green averaged 8.3 shots in four preseason games. We know it's a small sample size and the Warriors were working on a lot of things during the exhibition season, but it would be beneficial for the Warriors if Green becomes more aggressive when the games start counting on Thursday.

[RELATED: Greatness of Draymond dependent on 3-point shooting]

If players like Kevon Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss, Glenn Robinson and Jordan Poole can pick up big chunks of the scoring load, it's possible that Green doesn't need to shoot as much. But all of those players come with question marks surrounding their health or experience.

So Green should heed Curry's words aim for 10 shots a game. The only time he reached that number, the Warriors won 73 games.

Nick Young predicts Warriors miss playoffs, Lakers win 2020 NBA title

Nick Young predicts Warriors miss playoffs, Lakers win 2020 NBA title

Nick Young has never been one to blend in with the crowd, and he's not about to change anytime soon.

Even though his NBA playing days are behind him, Young still is very much keeping tabs on the league, and -- this might shock you -- he has some noteworthy opinions. In speaking to Adam Caparell of Complex, Young offered some thoughts on the upcoming NBA season, and as you'd expect, he didn't shy away from hot takes.

One of those takes, in particular, concerned the Warriors.

When asked if he had one crazy prediction for the upcoming NBA season, Young provided a double dose.

"I will say either New Orleans making the eighth seed or Denver not making the playoffs," Young initially replied. "I don't think the Warriors going to make it this year. If they do, it's the eighth seed."

Predictions for the Warriors are all over the place, and Swaggy P is no different. ESPN projects Golden State as the third-best NBA team over the next three seasons, but some of the company's personalities have a considerably lower opinion of the Dubs.

[RELATED: Why center-by-committee is Warriors' best course of action]

Young won his one and only NBA championship as a member of the Warriors, but clearly, that's not biasing his predictions. As for who he thinks the 2019-20 NBA champion will be, however, he went with one of the other five teams he played for in his 12-year career.


I suppose they can't all be hot takes.

Related content from TMZ Sports

Rihanna turned down Super Bowl for Kap: 'I couldn't be a sellout'
Antonio Brown looks in great shape working out at police field
Kevin Durant says the Knicks aren't a 'cool' team anymore
Swaggy P blames Instagram for hurting Carmelo's NBA chances