OAKLAND – Phase III of the Warriors’ quest to complete the best season in NBA history begins Sunday, when they invite the Portland Trail Blazers into Oracle Arena for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Warriors earned the top seed with a 73-9 regular season, and opened the playoffs by eliminating Houston in five, advancing to face the Blazers.
Though the Warriors have won 11 of the last 14 meetings, they’ve had Steph Curry in those games. He’s expected to miss at least the first two games of this series.
These teams have never met in the postseason. Here is a look at the matchups:
SMALL FORWARD: Harrison Barnes vs. Al-Farouq Aminu
Barnes was mostly ineffective in the first-round series win over Houston. Can he find his game? He’ll get plenty of opportunities, as the Warriors will make every effort to get him open shots in hopes of mining production. Aminu is a streaky shooter who operates best in the uptempo game. He’s rangy, a solid defender, but Barnes has superior skills.
EDGE: Barnes, slightly
POWER FORWARD: Draymond Green vs. Maurice Harkless
Green is the most versatile power forward in the game, able to play center or point guard because he can defend every position. Every team is seeking the next Draymond. Harkless didn’t do much in his first three seasons with Orlando but appears to be finding himself in Portland. Not a stretch-4 by any means, he, like Aminu, has the ability to finish at the rim, especially in transition.
EDGE: Green, decisively
CENTER: Andrew Bogut vs. Mason Plumlee
Bogut remains the linchpin of the Warriors defense, and he’ll prowl about the paint and protect the rim in the halfcourt. He figures to have some problems with Plumlee’s athleticism and activity level. Plumlee was very good in the first-round series win over the Clippers, so he has the potential to cause problems.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. CJ McCollum
Thompson usually gives the Blazers fits, mostly because they don’t have a defender capable to matching up with his height, at 6-foot-7. McCollum most certainly can’t. Thompson easily could have a 40-point game. Maybe two. McCollum’s deep shooting ability and quickness will be a test for Thompson, who will split time with Shaun Livingston.
POINT GUARD: Shaun Livingston vs. Damian Lillard
Livingston’s length is going to cause issues for Lillard or McCollum. Portland’s third guard, Allen Crabbe, could see more time because he’s a better physical matchup. Livingston will find ways to exploit an exploitable Blazers defense. Lillard is an indifferent defender who seems willing to trade buckets. Sometimes it works, because he shoots treys. He has the ability to take over a game.
EDGE: Lillard, slightly
The Warriors are fairly healthy, though moving Livingston into the starting lineup steals some of the depth. Andre Iguodala is a reliable postseason force. Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa will have opportunities to score. Expect Festus Ezeli and James Michael McAdoo to get plenty of run against active Portland bigs. Another player to watch is Ian Clark, whose value has risen in the absence of Curry.
Crabbe anchors the reserves. The Cal product is Portland’s third-leading scorer and is a taller complement to starting guards Lillard and McCollum. Gerald Henderson and Ed Davis are the other two crucial members here, with Henderson offering rugged defense and an occasional 3-pointer. Davis is inconsistent but can be productive in the paint.
PREDICTION: Warriors in five