Thanks to eight consecutive victories, the Trail Blazers have worked their way into third place in the Western Conference standings. Their most recent win was a comfortable 111-87 demolition of the Knicks, in which Damian Lillard scored 37 points in 31 minutes. At 39-26, they appear to have secured their playoff spot, but a couple of losses could still see them spiralling down the standings.
The Warriors are just one place ahead of Portland, but at 51-14, have a considerable buffer. They are just a game behind the Rockets, but are likely more concerned with refining their game for the playoffs than chasing the number one seed.
Yesterday they outscored the Spurs by 12 points in the final quarter to run out 111-107 winners. Steph Curry injured his ankle early in the game, leaving it to Kevin Durant to lead the Warriors to victory with 37 points and 11 rebounds.
Three keys to the game
Damian Lillard - If it weren’t for Anthony Davis, Lillard could lay claim to being the best player in the league in the last month. Since this time in February, he has been unbelievable, averaging 34.1 points per night in 11 games, while also dishing out five assists. The Warriors will need their entire team to work together if they want to stop him.
Can Portland capitalize on the Warriors' turnover habit? - The Warriors have turned it over on 15.6% of offensive possessions this season, the second most in the NBA. They also comfortably average the most assists, so this stat is clearly a product of their high level of ball movement, but it still results in 18.7 points per game for their opposition, the fourth most in the league. The Trail Blazers, however, don’t score a lot in this way. They average just 14.4 points off turnovers per game, less than all but one team, and will need to look to improve on that figure in this game.
How will Golden State fare without Curry? - As a result of the ankle injury he sustained against San Antonio, Curry won’t play in this game. The star point guard has missed 15 games this season, and in his absence the Warriors have generally done reasonably well. They have won 11 of these 15 these matchups, with Durant and Thompson generally able to pick up the offensive slack.
Matchup to watch
CJ McCollum vs Klay Thompson - McCollum has been the forgotten man during the Blazers’ current win streak, thanks largely to the dominance of Lillard. The Warriors can’t afford to forget about him though, as he averages 21.6 points per game and hits 42% of his attempts from beyond the arc. Whether Thompson spends most of his defensive energy on McCollum or Lillard is unknown, but he will make life difficult for whoever he guards. Offensively, Thompson will have an increased workload due to the absence of Curry. He shot just 5-for-16 for the field against San Antonio, but expect the Warriors to place a greater focus on getting him good looks in this game.
Portland Trail Blazers predicted starting lineup
PG - Damian Lillard | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Evan Turner | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu | C - Jusuf Nurkic
Golden State Warriors predicted starting lineup
PG - Steph Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | SF - Kevin Durant | PF - Draymond Green | C - JaVale McGee
Lillard has been ridiculous in the two contests between these sides this season. In the first of them, he scored 39 points in a losing effort. The next time around, he got his side over the line thanks to a 44 point, eight assist effort. Given the form he is in, he could be in for another big one.
Durant has been pretty useful himself in these two matches. In the first, he contributed 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in the victory. In the second, he went 17-for-27 from the floor, hit six 3-pointers, and had 50 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two blocks. Clearly, the Blazers struggle to contain him.
Golden State have been given a four-point handicap in this game, and given the form of Portland, this may be too much to overcome. The Blazers have simply been too good of late to tip against them on their home floor, even against the Warriors. Take Portland to cover the line in this game.
This will be close. It’s hard to imagine Lillard scoring less than 35 points, considering his recent form and his form against the Warriors this season, and with McCollum by his side, they will be extremely tough to beat on their home floor.
The Warriors, however, are the Warriors, and it would be silly to count them out, even in the absence of Curry. Like the Trail Blazers, they haven’t lost since the All-Star break, and are 9-1 in their past ten. Things appear to be clicking for one of the most talented sides in history as they gear up for a third title in four years.
Given their respective positions in the Western Conference standings though, Portland simply have more to play for. The Warriors will finish either second or first, and probably couldn’t care less which it is. In contrast, the Trail Blazers will need to keep winning to hang on to their third seed, and could easily drop to eighth if they stop winning.
This fact will be enough for them to drag themselves across the line in a game which will go down to the final minutes. Lillard will put his side on his back down the stretch, and lead them to a 116-114 victory at home.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSNW and NBC Sports Bay Area. Tip-off is at 10pm ET.