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Preview: Lee, Iguodala out as Warriors host Blazers
Two top offenses - but just one top defense - face off
The matchups between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors are always a little bit extra fun. The regional rivalry has stepped up a notch in recent years. With both teams’ best players at the same position, and a growing history of one-sided playoff encounters, there’s something undeniably personal between these two teams. Not quite a rivalry, but more than just another game.
On the injury front, the Warriors are still going to be playing without Andre Iguodala (knee), but will also be extra short-handed today as Damion Lee is listed as out (personal reasons). On top of that, the team is sending their rookies down to the G League to get some extra playing time. That leaves the vaunted depth of the Warriors a bit lean:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (16-2) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (10-9)
WHEN: Friday November 26, 2021 // 7:00pm PDT
For the second consecutive season, Stephen Curry leads the NBA in scoring. His defense and decision making are better than they’ve ever been, and as usual, all of the advanced metrics adore him. So it’s fair to ask if he’s better now than ever before.
As has always been the case with Curry, it’s not just how much he scores, it’s how efficiently he does it. According to Cleaning the Glass (which excludes garbage time), his 131.1 points per 100 scoring attempts is in the 100th percentile. As one of our old community members once said on our previous website, “there’s no such thing as off the chart - you just need a bigger piece of paper.” Curry has made a name for himself by shattering the glass ceiling of what we thought was possible, and he is continuing to dominate, extending the window of his athletic and mental prime.
Beyond the numbers, this impact, this floor-warping gravity that occurs around Curry has bent defenses past their breaking point. Recently, the Toronto Raptors tried their gimmicky Box+1 defense, but it didn’t work against the revamped Warriors roster. And then we saw another gimmicky defense employed by the Philadelphia 76ers - the “lock him up at all costs” approach.
Of course, this over-emphasis on stopping Curry goes way back - to at least his junior year in college, when an opposing coach decided to double team Curry for literally the entire game. I found some decent footage of that game, and it’s just as absurd as it sounds:
The fact that an NBA player can command a similar level of attention from a professional team is wild. Curry is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands, but he’s also dangerous enough without it to break defenses.
Curry being a dangerous offensive weapon is nothing new, but his defensive prowess is certainly an emerging strength. Now, I’m generally extremely hesitant to lean on defensive metrics because it is so hard to separate out an individual impact, but someone pointed this out to me on Twitter and it's pretty striking. Did you know Curry has the 4th best defensive win share in the league? It’s important to note that these hybrid defensive statistics are essentially team-based measurements, but having Curry appear so high up on the list is still a notable accomplishment for a guy that used to get benched in favor of Acie Law, in part because coach Keith Smart felt he could trust Law to avoid dumb fouls. Curry doesn’t reach any longer. With a stout muscular base and a decade of playing alongside Draymond Green, Curry’s got the head and the body to defend anyone.
As always, Curry is dominating. But there’s a different feel to it this year. With his offense and defense in balance like this, I think it’s very possible that this is the best that Curry has ever played - which is really saying something, given who we are talking about here.
There’s no D in “Trail Blazers”
Ex Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors, Don Nelson, once famously quipped “you want better defense? Get me good defenders.” For Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s Nellie ball or bust. They’ve leaned way into their offense, and while they probably don’t entirely ignore the defensive side, it’s certainly not a strength.
Under new coach Chauncey Billups, the Blazers have blasted off with the 3rd best offensive rating… but they also have the 4th worst defense. It’s the plague of the Lillard-era Blazers - who are oddly insistent on sticking with their small and defensively challenged backcourt pairing of Lillard and CJ McCollum. Can the offense carry a non-defense team? Sure, but like my small wife giving me a piggy back ride, it might work for a second, but you aren’t going to get too far like that.
This critical flaw is even more dangerous against the Warriors, a team that is almost custom-built to punish teams with weak point of attack defense.
Friend of the DNHQ, Joe Viray mentioned in our writers Slack chat this morning that the Blazers will likely try to blitz Curry to minimize some of his impact. But once those rotations start flipping over themselves trying to stay with Curry, Green and the Warriors other players are well trained in the art of picking apart a defense that has over-committed to slowing Curry.
Good luck in Chase Center!