The Warriors and Blazers will meet in the Western Conference Finals, as Portland is now the last line of defense in the West to prevent the Warriors from a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance.
It’s the third time in that period the two teams have met in the postseason, with the Warriors winning easily in the first two series. The hope this time is that this particular Blazers team, which has made it further than any Portland team since 2000, has learned from the lessons of past playoff failure and is ready to be a true challenger to Golden State’s throne.
The oddsmakers still have Golden State as a hefty favorite (-500) and the Blazers as sizable underdogs (+375), for good reason, but those odds are much closer than they would have been had the two teams met in the first round. That’s because Portland has been impressive in dispatching of the Thunder and Nuggets in the first two rounds, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum seem to be in top form as one of the league’s most formidable backcourts.
There are five main factors that will decide this series, and we’ll explore those below. The Blazers are a long shot, but it’s far from a certainty that the Warriors will roll through to the Finals with ease.
Kevin Durant’s Health
Durant won’t play in Game 1 and it seems highly doubtful he’ll be ready to go for Game 2. For all the firepower the Warriors possess, Durant has been operating as the league’s best player in the playoffs and there is no one on the Blazers that can matchup with him on the defensive end. Portland doesn’t have a P.J. Tucker they can throw at him — or even a Patrick Beverley to pester him — and every game he’s not on the floor offers the Blazers defense a better chance at trying to limit Steph Curry and Klay Thompson by not needing to focus energy on Durant.
The Warriors offense is still great without Durant, as it puts the ball in Curry’s hands more and seems to open up the flow of their offense more than when Durant is there to isolate. Even so, Durant’s absence puts more pressure on Golden State’s (very good) “others” like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to get more involved offensively. In Game 6 in Houston, those two in particular were spectacular. In this series, for however long Durant is out or limited, they’ll have to come up big to help out the Splash Bros.
Lillard And McCollum Working Together
The Blazers backcourt is special. Full stop. However, to beat the Warriors they can’t take turns having big scoring nights as they often do. Portland will need a Game 6 like combination, when they both topped 30 points against Denver, from their dynamic guard duo on a regular basis if they are to take down Golden State.