For the third time in the past five years, the Warriors and Blazers are meeting in the NBA playoffs. The dynastic Warriors eliminated the Blazers in 2016 and 2017 and will look to do so again here in 2019. Even with Kevin Durant out for at least the first two games, Vegas lists the Dubs as the heavy favorite heading into the series.
But the Blazers, led by Oakland-native Damian Lillard and fellow co-star CJ McCollum, are hungry and assuredly will give the Warriors all the champs can handle.
NBC Sports Bay Area's Warriors reporter Logan Murdock and NBC Sports Northwest's Blazers reporter Jamie Hudson go back-and-forth with their analysis as they break down all aspects of the series.
Jamie Hudson (NBCS Northwest): This will be a fun battle between two players' coaches. Going up against coach Steve Kerr in the Western Conference finals is not an easy task for any coach, but watching what the Blazers coaching staff and coach Terry Stotts has been able to do this postseason does give me confidence in coaching battle. From Stotts’ adjustments in the Denver series and even in-game adjustments, he has shown that he has learned a lot from last year’s sweep over the Pelicans and how teams defend Damian Lillard.
Logan Murdock (NBCS Bay Area): My confidence level in Steve Kerr is pretty high in this series. Not only has he beaten Terry Stotts in each of the other two playoff series matchups between the two, but he’s also only lost one postseason game in the matchup. Kerr is coming off one of his most impressive performances in the Western Conference second round, getting the most out of a poor bench in a closeout road Game 6 against the Rockets.
Kerr will have his hands full game-planning for Damian Lillard and CJ McCullum, but as he’s shown in the past, Kerr has Stotts’ number and should show it in this series.
Jamie: The Trail Blazers depended so much on all five starters in their first-round series against the Thunder. The matchups worked out better for both Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to knock down open threes and get to the rim. In the Blazers' second-round series against Denver, Moe and Chief were not that big of a factor on offense. So much so that Coach Stotts didn’t start them in the second half of Game 7.
So now the question is: Could there be a starting lineup change against the Warriors? Probably not, but the Blazers are going to need to get more offense from their starters than just Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. I expect to see a lot of two-man game from Lillard and Enes Kanter. Facing a smaller Warriors lineup, the Blazers should and probably will pound it inside.
Logan: Golden State will be without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins for at least the first two games of the series and probably beyond. Still, without those two, the Warriors had one of their best offensive performances in the playoffs Friday against the Rockets.
With Cousins and Durant out, I expect Kerr to trot out the same starting lineup we saw in Game 6 against the Rockets: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut.
Curry has been phenomenal this season against the Blazers, averaging 28.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in four matchups, but the X-factor will be Iguodala, who’s been a guiding force for a Warriors team that’s prone to complacency.
How do you see the Warriors matching up against Kanter down low?
Jamie: I think the Warriors have a formidable defensive duo to contain Kanter in Green and Bogut, both of whom will get time with the Turkish big man. Kevon Looney should also get time on Kanter, who has an immense offensive repertoire.
However, Kanter’s defensive deficiencies could have him on the bench as Golden State will surely put him through a myriad of pick and rolls with Curry and Green -- and even Durant when he returns. If Kanter can’t move his feet fast enough, the Blazers could be in for a short series.
Jamie: Portland likely will be without Rodney Hood for Game 1, who hyperextended his knee in Game 7 vs. Denver. If Hood misses more time, that could be a huge blow for the Blazers’ second unit. Hood was the most consistent scorer off the bench in their series against the Nuggets. Hood was playing some of the best basketball of his career and he has said many times how he feels comfortable in Coach Stotts’ offense.
I feel very confident in the Blazers’ second unit heading into the Western Conference finals. Portland has had many role players step up, from Seth Curry to Hood to Evan Turner (see Game 7 in Denver). Not to mention I expect Zach Collins to bring the energy and defensive toughness off the bench that the Blazers will desperately need. Collins could be an X-factor in making sure Steph and Klay don’t get too many fastbreak layups. The Warriors should be on the lookout for his chase-down blocks. And hell, now McCollum is getting into the action too. CJ called his chase-down block on Jamal Murray in Game 7 a "LeBron-style block." Blazers will need some of those to quiet the crowd at Oracle.
Logan: The Warriors had one of their best bench performances of the season in Game 6 against Houston, but it remains to be seen if they can carry their play into the conference finals. Without a dependable scorer, the champs were 29th in the league in bench scoring and near the bottom of league standings in bench production in the postseason.
For the Warriors to continue their Game 6 bench magic, it will depend on Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, Looney and Jordan Bell, who seemingly got out of the doghouse Friday evening.
Jamie: The Warriors win this category, as far as having more guys who have been clutch for them. But when you have Damian Lillard on your team, doesn’t he count as at least three clutch players? If any of the games in this series come down to game-winners, Lillard will be ready to fire from 30+ feet. I could also see McCollum stepping up and being the closer if called upon. McCollum has earned the trust and respect that I could see Coach Stotts drawing up a game-winning play for McCollum just because everyone expects the closer to be Dame.
I gotta also mention that we all know Lillard enjoys playing back in his hometown of Oakland and I think you should expect some “Lillard Time” magic, which typically comes in the fourth quarter when he goes off to either help his team comeback or helps them secure their lead.
Logan: Golden State has its pick of ‘closers’, including Curry, Thompson and Durant. On Friday, after going scoreless in the first half against the Rockets, Curry scored 33 points in the second half, including a dagger 3-pointer in the final minute.
Portland knows good and well of Curry’s exploits. Three years ago, in his first game back from a sprained knee, scored 17 of his game-high 41 points in overtime of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, giving Golden State a three-games-to-one lead in a series they won in five games.
This should be a fun series, but if the games are close, the Warriors have an advantage in the ‘clutch’ category.
Jamie: On Monday as the Trail Blazers prepped for Game 1, Lillard and McCollum talked about how Draymond Green anchors this Warriors team, especially on the defensive end. Lillard discussed how having such a high energy, vocal guy is difficult to deal with as an offensive player. So Portland understands that they might need to make more adjustments on the offensive end.
Before this season started, there were still so many question marks around the Blazers’ defense. After seeing how the Blazers have improved at that end of the floor, starting with Dame and CJ, that gives me way more confidence facing the back-to-back champs. Portland has finally seemed to get his rotation down on the defensive end. They’ve said multiple times that communication is key. Enes Kanter has been a big surprise on defense. He has always been knocked for his ‘D’ but he has been a much better rim protector for the Blazers than people have given him credit in the past.
Logan: The Warriors can be the best defensive unit in the league -- when they want to be. While they rank among the bottom of the league in defensive rating in the postseason, they held the Rockets to 44 percent in the fourth quarter of Game 6, helping them win the series.
Golden State can be stifling when they're fully locked in. The challenge is getting them to care.
Jamie: Playing in the conference finals is brand new for this Trail Blazers squad. Portland hasn’t reached the third round in over 19 years. It will be interesting to see how Portland balances the emotions of it all. But now that they’ve made it this far, the Blazers are playing loose and playing confident so maybe the lack of experience this far into the playoffs won’t be as big of a deal. However, we saw how well that’s gone for Houston. Sooo …. it’s not gonna be an easy task. I do think this series could go longer than people are expecting though. The Blazers are ready to battle.
Logan: Warriors coach Steve Kerr has presided over the best five-year run in NBA history and is on pace to win his fourth championship in five years. Golden State has a championship pedigree, but as they’ve shown throughout the season, sometimes they can lack championship focus. Portland surely will give the Warriors their best shot, but it's on the champs to bring the necessary energy.