Playoff matchups: Blazers need Nurkic to have a chance against Warriors

Jusuf Nurkic shoots before Blazers game

PORTLAND, Ore. — The odds don't look good for the Trail Blazers.

The first batch of predictions are coming in for Portland's first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

Vegas pegged the Warriors as the favorite to win the championship at 5 to 11. The Blazers, meanwhile, have the worst odds of all 16 playoff teams to win a championship at 300 to 1.

Metrics created by ESPN"s Kevin Pelton calculated that the Blazers have a 1 percent chance of upsetting the Warriors.

USA TODAY opined that even if Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum play the best basketball of their career, and Jusuf Nurkic comes back healthy and is able to play, a win against the Warriors would still be "a long shot."

They're probably right. It's fine to be a Blazers fan — or player — and believe in your team to pull off the upset. But reality insists that the Warriors be taken seriously. To predict a Blazers' upset in this first-round series would be to ignore the massive talent advantage Golden State has over not only the Blazers, but every other team in the NBA.

NBA PLAYOFFS
(8) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (1) Golden State Warriors
Best-of-7 series; x-if necessary
Game 1: Sunday, April 16, 12:30 p.m., at Golden State, ABC
Game 2: Wednesday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. at Golden State, KGW
Game 3: Saturday, April 22, 7:30 p.m. at Portland, KGW
Game 4: Monday, April 24, 7:30 p.m. at Portland, KGW
x-Game 5: Wednesday, April 26, at Golden State, time TBD
x-Game 6: Friday, April 28, at Portland, time TBD
x-Game 7: Sunday, April 30, at Golden State, time TBD

One thing is certain, however. If the Blazers want to make this a competitive series, they need center Jusuf Nurkic healthy, at full strength and in the starting lineup.

Before Wednesday's regular-season finale against the New Orleans Pelicans, Nurkic was out on the court participating in a light workout that lasted about 25 minutes, his second pre-game workout in the past week. He told Comcast Sports Northwest's Jason Quick he feels good and is eager to play.

"I don’t know a lot; still waiting to hear from the doctor. Right now, I feel good. I’m waiting for the green light," he said.

Watch: Nurkic shoots before Blazers regular season finale

The Blazers took X-rays of Nurkic's injured right leg on Wednesday. Blazers coach Terry Stotts said the results would be revealed Friday, according to Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune.

Lillard told The Oregonian's Joe Freeman that having Nurkic in the lineup would make a big difference. "You see how good of a team we are when he's on the floor," he said.

McCollum said he hopes Nurkic is able to return, but the always confident shooting guard said he feels good about his team, even if Nurkic can't play.

"I think we've got a chance even without him because of the way they play," he said.

MORE BLAZERS PLAYOFFS COVERAGE

He went on to explain that the Blazers match up well with the Warriors, even without Nurkic, because the Warriors play a small lineup often, with 6-foot-7 Draymond Green playing the center position. The Blazers also play small lineups (especially without Nurkic) and have a lot of wings to match up with the Warriors.

But McCollum is wrong. The logic is sound, but only if the talent disparity between the two rosters is ignored.

That's why the Blazers need Nurkic. He presents Portland with an obvious and significant matchup advantage.

Nobody on the Warriors' roster can contend with him. Zaza Pachulia? Nope. JaVale McGee? Try again. Draymond Green? The Warriors starting power forward is arguably the best defender in the NBA, but he has a significant size disadvantage against the 7-foot, 280-pound Nurkic.

PHOTOS: Blazers vs. Warriors matchups

This is not to say that the Blazers will beat the Warriors with Nurkic. It is to say that if Nurkic is healthy and playing at full speed and strength, Portland can make this a competitive, entertaining series.

The Blazers lost to the Warriors last season in the second round of the playoffs in five games. But it was a competitive, entertaining series and gave Portland something to build on. The youngest team in the NBA (the Blazers' average age on their roster is 24.7 years) can hope for something similar this season.

Here's a look at position-by-position matchups for the Blazers and Warriors:

Starting lineup

POINT GUARD: Damian Lillard vs. Stephen Curry

These are two of the best point guards in the NBA. Lillard has had a career season, averaging 27 points, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, increasing his scoring output to 29.7 points per game after the All-Star break, including a career high and franchise-best 59-point scoring performance late in the season against the Utah Jazz. Curry has averaged 25.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals this season. Lillard struggled against the Warriors in three games during the regular season, averaging 23.3 points, 3.7 assists and one rebound, while Curry averaged 27.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists against the Blazers.

Advantage: Warriors

VIDEO: One rare fact about Lillard's 59-point record 

WinnersView.com brings stories and statistics together to make you smarter about the sports and games you love.

SHOOTING GUARD: CJ McCollum vs. Klay Thompson

The statistical output for both players is very similar. McCollum scores 23 points per game, Thompson 22.3. Thompson grabs 3.7 rebounds, McCollum 3.6. McCollum shoots 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from the 3-point line and 91 percent on free throws. Thompson is at 47, 41 and 85. On offense, they are evenly matched with a slight nod to McCollum. But Thompson is a good defender and McCollum is a defensive liability.

Advantage: Warriors

SMALL FORWARD: Moe Harkless vs. Kevin Durant

Harkless has been great for the Blazers this season. He's a talented and versatile defender and he improved his offense, making better than 35 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. He's an important part of the Blazers' present and future. But his counterpart is Kevin Durant, one of the NBA's very best. He missed 20 games this season to injury but he was fantastic in his first season with the Warriors, averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He'll be a matchup nightmare for Portland.

Advantage: Warriors

POWER FORWARD: Noah Vonleh vs. Draymond Green

Vonleh was inserted into the starting lineup in March and then earned the promotion with his performance. He emerged as a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions. In March, he averaged six points and seven rebounds per game in about 23 minutes per game. In April, he boosted his production to 8.7 points and 9.1 rebounds. At 21 years old, his best years are ahead of him. Green is arguably the best defensive player in the NBA and can guard any position. He allows the Warriors to roll out the most devastating small-ball lineup in the league because he can guard most NBA centers. He's also a gifted offensive player and play-maker. He's integral to everything the Warriors do.

Advantage: Warriors

CENTER: Jusuf Nurkic vs. Zaza Pachulia

If Nurkic can't play in this series, the Blazers will have to start Meyers Leonard at center or start a small-ball lineup with Vonleh at center and Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. Neither is a good option. Before he got hurt, Nurkic was playing exceptional basketball for the Blazers. He averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals with Portland this season, and seemed to have a knack for coming up big in the most important moments (remember the masterful performance against Denver?). If he plays, he should give the Warriors fits. Pachulia is a solid veteran center who relies on experience and instincts to make positive contributions to the team when he's on the court.

Advantage: Blazers, but only if Nurkic plays

Top 3 reserves

TRAIL BLAZERS: Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner

Aminu began the season as the starter, but he played much better after he started coming off the bench. He's the Blazers' best defender and after the All-Star break, he averaged 9.3 points and 7.4 rebounds while improving his shooting numbers.

Crabbe finished the season ranked third in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 44.4 percent. He was even better after the break, increasing his scoring to 11.4 points per game while shooting 47.1 percent on 3-pointers. He missed the last two games of the regular season with a sore foot but insists he will play in Game 1 of the series against the Warriors.

Turner, after a rough start to his first season in Portland, found his footing. He's a good defensive player and has been a versatile playmaker with a reliable midrange game on offense.

WARRIORS: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes

Igoudala is a challenger to win Sixth Man of the Year. His value can't be judged by his stats (7.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists). He's a very good defender and solid offensive player who does everything well.

Livingston is a savvy player with an automatic midrange jumper. He uses his size (6-7) to create mismatches against smaller guards.

The Warriors signed Matt Barnes in March after Durant was injured. He's been a solid rotation piece since, averaging about six points and five rebounds off the bench. He's doubtful for Game 1, however, with a right ankle sprain.

Advantage: Blazers

Coaching

Terry Stotts vs. Steve Kerr

Both are good coaches. Both have a talented group of assistant coaches around them. Kerr's career record is 207-39, an .841 winning percentage, with an NBA championship and an NBA Coach of the Year award. Stotts' coaching record in Portland is 223-187, a .544 winning percentage.

Advantage: Warriors

Series prediction

Warriors in 5

© 2017 KGW-TV


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