10 biggest questions for the Western Conference Finals, Reports

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There isn’t a prelude obligatory as we prepare for the Western Convention Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Path Blazers. At the moment we’re strolling by means of 10 questions that can outline the collection and decide who will get to face the winner of the Milwaukee-Toronto matchup for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

When are Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins getting back from their respective accidents? How will the Warriors modify with out them?

Durant is out for a minimum of Sport 1 and can re-evaluated Thursday. Meaning he’s probably out Sport 2 as effectively, and based mostly on Steve Kerr’s feedback on Monday, it doesn’t seem to be he’s going to be again quickly after that, both. Meaning the Warriors are going to look far totally different on this collection than they’ve throughout the previous few seasons. Surviving for simply over a recreation in opposition to the Rockets in that configuration is much totally different than doing so over as many as seven video games right here.

Cousins’ timetable for a return can also be up within the air, however the Warriors are higher geared up to mitigate his absence. They clearly have a ton of expertise enjoying with out him, and so they have higher depth amongst their bigs (when it comes to usable our bodies) than on the wing proper now.

With these two on the sideline, Andre Iguodala is bound to stay within the beginning lineup. That opens up one other slot, although, and it’s prone to be crammed by both Andrew Bogut or Kevon Looney. Kerr has beforehand proven an inclination to go along with Bogut because the starter, presumably resulting from his consolation with the remaining Loss of life Lineup guys, and that is sensible on this collection as effectively.

Bogut is best geared up than Looney to cope with Enes Kanter on the block and can also be a greater passer when left alone on the perimeter or when posted on the block, which helps the Warriors of their cut up motion. Bogut has not essentially been all that efficient throughout the playoffs, although, so Looney is probably going due for giant minutes whether or not he begins or not. And with out Durant, gamers like Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo McKinnie will presumably see extra time as effectively.

Is Stephen Curry over his capturing droop?

Except for a messy Sport 4, Curry was improbable throughout the Warriors’ first-round win over the Clippers. He averaged 24.7 factors per recreation whereas capturing 50 p.c on each 2s and 3s, recording a minimum of six assists in 4 of six video games, and twice grabbing double-digit rebounds. After which he went ice chilly.

Curry shot simply 8-of-32 from Three throughout the first three video games of the Rockets collection, and that stretch was the third-worst three-game 3-point capturing stretch of his total playoff profession. Sport Four regarded like a everlasting rebound as he dropped 30 pints on 12-of-25 capturing, however he was solely 4-of-14 from deep.

Then he stayed cool for primarily all of Sport 5 till Durant went down, and virtually all of Sport 6 till he lastly received going late as soon as once more. Curry was 9-of-15 from the sphere at 5-of-Eight from Three throughout the fourth quarters of these two video games, and simply 9-of-28 from the sphere and 2-of-14 from Three throughout the different six quarters.

Every collection is a special animal, although, and Portland’s type of protection is much totally different than Houston’s. The Rockets largely switched Curry’s pick-and-rolls early within the collection, however started trapping late as soon as Durant went out. He struggled to search out respiratory room in opposition to the traps for some time, however towards the tail finish of Sport 6, he and Draymond Inexperienced annihilated them — and Curry fried the switches, too.

Portland tends to have its bigs drop again in opposition to screen-and-roll performs, however that’s about as harmful a factor as you are able to do in opposition to Curry. Would possibly this afford him a chance to maintain his late-series rhythm going?

Can the Warriors get something out of their bench?

The Warriors’ bench gave them virtually precisely nothing by means of the primary 5 video games of the collection. Kerr used them lower than ever earlier than, leaning virtually solely on the Loss of life Lineup till Durant received injured; and whereas that technique did resulted in losses in Video games Three and 4, it’s troublesome to argue he wasn’t justified. His seven bench gamers contributed between seven and 14 factors in every of these video games earlier than lastly coming by means of with 33 throughout the series-sealing Sport 6 win.

The Blazers, although, will not be the Rockets. Gamers like Looney and Bogut and Bell are extra usable in opposition to Portland than they had been in opposition to Houston, and the identical is true of Cook dinner, Jerebko, and McKinnie. The Warriors shouldn’t essentially count on any of these gamers other than Looney and perhaps Livingston to really be efficient, however they’ll a minimum of get some minutes out of them to absorb the time alongside the 4 stars they’ve remaining with out Durant.

If any non-Looney/Livingston bench participant does handle to contribute constructive minutes, nonetheless, the Warriors must take into account {that a} main bonus.

How do the Warriors need to match up defensively?

Throughout their collection in opposition to the Nuggets, Damian Lillard often struggled to cope with the dimensions of Torrey Craig on the perimeter. The a lot larger (6-7, 215) and stronger Craig saved his physique locked to Lillard at any time when doable, attempting to bump him off his path coming round screens and in isolation. Lillard nonetheless did his finest to scoot round picks and cut up defenders on the drive, however he undoubtedly had a harder go of issues than he did in opposition to Oklahoma Metropolis.

Will the Warriors need to match up similarly? With out Durant, Iguodala will virtually absolutely begin on the 3, and he’d be considerably wasted defending Moe Harkless. Curry doesn’t at all times respect when the Warriors cross-match him off the opposing groups level guard, however the offensive creation load he’s going to must shoulder whereas Durant is out virtually calls for that occur on this collection. Shifting Curry onto Harkless whereas Iguodala and Thompson primarily deal with Lillard and McCollum makes virtually an excessive amount of sense.

The Blazers confirmed a willingness to publish Harkless on Jamal Murray and make the Nuggets ship assist final collection, however that technique just isn’t as efficient in opposition to the Warriors as a result of they’re each higher at serving to and recovering, and since their smaller gamers are typically higher defenders than their Denver counterparts.

Throughout the groups’ regular-season matchups, Durant largely defended Harkless whereas Inexperienced dealt with Al-Farouq Aminu, laying far off him with the intention to plug leaks elsewhere on the ground. The identical will presumably occur throughout this collection, whereas Bogut and/or Looney may even have the ability to assist extra liberally off Enes Kanter away from the ball than they may Nurkic.

Can Enes Kanter keep on the ground?

You need to give Kanter credit score: He’s been maligned defensively for an extended rattling time and he has actually introduced it throughout this postseason run. Merely reaching “playable” on that finish brings super worth to the Blazers resulting from his cosy match because the primarily pick-and-roll screener for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, however he’s been pretty energetic total and has achieved a pleasant job sliding his toes.

In fact, the Thunder didn’t actually have anybody who might problem his best weaknesses, whereas the Nuggets base their offense largely round Nikola Jokic having the ball in his palms, which allowed Kanter to largely work as an on-ball defender somewhat than somebody who wanted to stay with guards in area. The Warriors — particularly with out Durant, given the probability that they rely closely on the Curry-Inexperienced pick-and-roll mixture — current a far totally different problem.

Granted, the Warriors are probably to make use of Bogut within the beginning lineup with the intention to have somebody with the requisite dimension to defend Kanter on the opposite finish, and Kanter shouldn’t be challenged an excessive amount of in that particular matchup. Looney is barely extra of a difficulty as a result of he’s received an athleticism edge; however he’s largely non-threatening as a scorer exterior the fast space of the rim, and whereas he could make performs in area every so often, that’s not what he’s finest at.

Realistically, the way in which to play Kanter off the court docket could be to make use of Inexperienced as a middle, however that’s tougher with out Durant as a result of it necessitates both enjoying Iguodala and Livingston collectively or enjoying McKinnie, who has not been dependable sufficient thus far.

Can Rodney Hood and Zach Collins stick with it? And can Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless make their pictures?

Rodney Hood was improbable throughout the Denver collection, averaging 14.7 factors per recreation whereas capturing 11-of-22 from Three and dominating the Nuggets’ smaller guards within the publish at any time when he received the prospect. Rodney Hood was additionally dreadful throughout the Oklahoma Metropolis collection, capturing simply 6-of-22 from the sphere total, and he’s nonetheless Rodney Hood.

Equally, Zach Collins was terrific in opposition to the Nuggets, averaging round 9 factors, Four rebounds, and a pair of blocks per recreation whereas displaying a willingness to let the ball fly from the perimeter and the flexibility to make performs in area on each ends. But when Collins had proven these abilities persistently sufficient all through the common season, the Blazers most likely by no means would have signed Kanter within the first place and he’d be beginning rather than Jusuf Nurkic proper now.

Both or each of Hood and Collins carrying their success from the Denver collection to this one could be a fully large elevate for the Blazers as a result of it could alleviate among the points they’ve had on the ahead spots on this particular matchup through the years.

Harkless and Aminu are extremely helpful defenders and competent offensive contributors in most matchups, however in opposition to the Warriors, their offensive shortcomings get magnified. That duo related on solely 7-of-33 makes an attempt from past the arc within the Denver collection after going solely 11-of-32 in opposition to OKC, and so they merely must be higher than that for the Blazers to have an opportunity right here.

How do the Blazers need to match up defensively?

Simply because the Nuggets matched up their small ahead with Lillard for a lot of the earlier collection, so too did the Blazers use their small ahead on Jamal Murray. That’s not how they matched up with the Warriors throughout their common season matchups, for probably the most half.

As a substitute, they used Harkless totally on Inexperienced, in order that he might change any pick-and-roll and choose up both Curry or Durant as they got here round a display. They used Aminu on Durant in order that he might do the identical, and since he’s the one participant on the workforce with the requisite dimension and size to come back near bothering KD’s shot off the dribble or from the publish. They usually matched Lillard and McCollum straight up with Curry and Thompson.

With Durant out for a minimum of a recreation, although, they may need to method issues a bit otherwise. Sliding Harkless onto Curry and Aminu onto Inexperienced, whereas planting Lillard on Iguodala, makes the Warriors work only a tiny bit tougher to create the type of 4-on-Three benefits they usually wish to create with their screens. It additionally has the additional benefit of letting Lillard loosen up only a bit off the ball, which is critical given the offensive burden he has been shouldering thus far and absolutely should proceed shouldering throughout this collection.

If the Warriors need to use Iguodala because the screener with the intention to contain Lillard instantly in each ball-screen, perhaps that motivates Portland to alter issues up. However the sensible play could be to make them beat you want that, somewhat than merely permitting them to do it within the precise method they usually need to.

Can Dame and CJ do that?

Lillard hit one other stage in opposition to the Thunder, even earlier than nailing the series-winning 37-footer, however he backslid in opposition to the Nuggets, capturing solely 41 p.c from the sphere and 29 p.c from Three whereas usually wanting extremely drained on the ground. McCollum has been largely sterling all through the postseason however he’s additionally had 4 video games the place he’s shot 41 p.c from the sphere or worse.

Neither of these issues can occur in opposition to the Warriors. The Blazers want seven nice Dame video games and 7 nice CJ video games. Anything and so they’ll be heading residence briefly order. Each gamers have had sturdy video games and large moments in opposition to the Warriors prior to now however throughout their earlier two playoff matchups, they’ve been inconsistent with their capturing.

 

Each gamers are higher now than they had been then, although, and so they have extra methods to counter the ways the Warriors are prone to deploy defensively. Lillard, specifically, is now a lot better at coping with each switching and trapping defenses, whereas McCollum has diversified his off-the-dribble recreation as effectively.

What Portland actually wants on this collection is for this duo to someway outplay Curry and Thompson, although. They’ve by no means been ready to do this over an elongated time frame, but when they’ll, then it’s anyone’s recreation.

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