Preview: Draymond Green good to go as Warriors visit Blazers
Portland has struggled without CJ McCollum but Golden State still needs to capitalize
Tonight’s game will mark the passage of the halfway point of the Golden State Warriors’ regular season. Game 36 of 72 will find the Warriors travelling to Portland to take on their potential playoff opponents, the 5th-seeded Trail Blazers. Golden State has a history of making quick work of Damian Lillard and the Blazers, but everything is up for grabs when this version of the Warriors play.
After getting walloped by LeBron James and the Lakers in a blowout loss, the Warriors hope that newly returned Jordan Poole can help address the bleeding from the bench, but when your team loses by 28 points, it’s not entirely the benches fault. The Warriors have a lot to tighten up as they head into the All-Star break after today and tomorrow’s back-to-back.
The big news coming into today’s game is that Draymond Green’s ankle tweak that kept him out of most of the last game has mended enough for him to play tonight. He practiced fully yesterday and will be available.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (19-16) at Portland Trail Blazers (19-14)
WHEN: Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021 // 7:00pm PDT
WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA
Eye on the prize - Warriors still positioned okay for the playoffs
Even knowing conceptually what this would have to look like, the Warriors’ playoff dreams rumbling along to a rickety start has been anything but steady, nor has it been easy to watch, at times.
But they’re in the hunt.
Sneaking into the 4th seed would be amazing.
The Warriors are currently eight games back, four behind the 4th place Suns (the team they play tomorrow). But there’s a logjam that they could leap much easier than making up four games. Sitting just a half game back from the tied-up Nuggets and Spurs, and just one full game behind the Blazers, the Warriors are within easy distance of being the 5th seed.
[Author's note: things got wild last night, here are the updated standings for today. The names changed around a bit, but the central truth of the 4 seed being a reach remains true:]
And again, this is just now the halfway point of the season - there’s a lot of basketball left for a Warriors team that looks to be sharpening.
The NBA has modified their playoff format this year to include a play-in tournament, which means that the 7th through 10th seeded teams will all get to / have to play a couple of extra games before they get to see the playoffs. Coach Steve Kerr, asked about the new arrangement yesterday quipped, “If we're 9th or 10th I'll love it, if we're 7th or 8th I'll think it's total bullcrap."
So the priority for a Warriors team that is looking more and more solidly in the middle of the pack is to grab at least the 6th seed in the Western Conference. Fourth would be amazing, but 6th is really the more meaningful target. And remember, on paper, the Warriors have a significantly easier post All-Star break schedule.
Jordan Poole, Wiseman, and the Warriors bench dreams
We’ve already talked about the Poole call up a bunch on this site, but the sad truth is that Brad Wanamaker is averaging about 16 minutes per game - so there’s not a huge hole that we can immediately expect to see plugged with fresh energy. But it seems pretty clear that Kerr and the Warriors are ready to tinker around the edges of their bench rotation.
Like Neal deGrasse-Tyson says, “As the area of our knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of our ignorance.” So first: the sure things. Paschall, Bazemore, and Wiseman all hold rock solid positions in the rotation. These are the players that are part of the Warriors plans for next season, Wiseman in particular; but they’ve also got a huge band of unknown development wrapped around them.
There’s a near-term pressure in play, because as soon as Wiseman is closer to ready, he’s going to take that starting center spot back from Looney. Right now, fouling is the main issue. Wiseman leads the team with 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes - on a team that is nearly dead last in free throws per defended field goal attempt.
Going out on a limb a bit, I think it’s the fear of over fouling that has kept Bazemore on such a tight leash (remember his quick two fouls against the Lakers, and the even quicker hook that Kerr pulled him out of the game with?).
There’s been a fair amount of chatter regarding Wiseman, and some real “grass is always greener” debates floating around about LaMelo Ball’s hot start to his career. But take a look at the player production - with the caveats that Wiseman has taken significantly less threes, and played alongside more talent, the two rookies impact per 36 minutes are comparable (via Joe Viray in our writer’s chat).
Minutes are a precious commodity when it comes to player development, and it’s why Poole was sent down to the G League to sharpen his game. For comparison, Poole has logged a grand total of 1,417 minutes in his career, Wiseman, halfway through his first season has logged just short of 500, but neither is anywhere close to a finished product - which is equally fun, and frightening.
Without McCollum, can the Blazers tread water long enough?
I really like Portland. I’ve got family up that way and a ton of really pleasant memories riding dirt bikes around all day and then watching a Blazers game at night with my uncle and cousins. Dame Lillard, the Oakland native and all around good man, has won many, many fans over the years with his ice cold “Dame Time” finishing moves, and a penchant for high output, athletic basketball.
Unfortunately, Portland finds themselves bit by the injury bug… again. Like that one person on a camping trip that just gets feasted on for whatever reason, the injury gods continue to heap punishment on the Blazers. Zach Collins (ankle surgery) and Jusef Nurkic (broken wrist) are out for the long haul. The most recent addition to the injured reserve list is guard CJ McCollum, who had been on a tear prior to suffering his fractured foot ,averaging a career-best 26.7 points per game.
So while both McCollum and Nurkic are approaching a return, the Blazers will have to make do with what they have. Besides Lillard, watch for Robert Covington. One of the many “3 and D” wings that were on the Warriors’ wish list during the offseason, the lanky wing bust out of his early season shooting struggles to notch a season-high 21 points in the Blazers last game (a win over the Hornets). They’ve also got Carmelo Anthony, a limited player in the twilight of his career, but one that can still give you buckets.
Looking at the team statistics, the Blazers are the second most profligate team in the league, when it comes to throwing up three pointers, and they don’t turn the ball over much; but the defense is soft. It’s a good strength on strength matchup for a Warriors team boasting a top defense, and middling offense.
The Warriors and Blazers always put on a good show, and I expect another tight, exciting contest tonight. In contrast to the Lakers veteran defense easily picking apart the Warriors simplified offense, I think the Blazers are going to struggle matching the pace and consistent pressure, eventually succumbing to back cuts and Stephen Curry bombs.
Warriors handle town business, 112-110.