It's no secret that the Warriors are the clear-cut favorites in this series. Not only do they boast the NBA's best record, No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense (in terms of rating), but they're the first franchise in NBA history to win 67 games in three straight seasons. The Blazers, who stole one game when they met the Warriors in the second round of last year's playoffs, have their work cut out for them.
The Bosnian Beast - Jusuf Nurkic — who was traded to Portland at the deadline and has thrived (15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds in 20 games) in his new role — suffered a leg injury in late March and is hopeful to return, but his status is still up in the air. If he's cleared, he adds another much-needed dimension to this backcourt-heavy Blazers squad, who is 14-6 with Nurkic in the lineup. What's more, he'll draw the attention of Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green, opening up more offensive opportunities.
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Battle of the backcourts - One of the must-see matchups of the first round will be Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson vs. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Splash Brothers have the edge, as history shows, but Lillard — who plays with an extra-large chip on his shoulder — is capable of going off at any moment, evidenced by his 59-point outburst last Saturday. As is reigning Most Improved Player of the Year McCollum, who averaged a career-high 23 points on 48% shooting this season. If the Blazers' duo can win the backcourt matchup, this series gets all the more interesting.
Hot streaks - This may be a one-vs.-eight matchup as far as seeding is concerned, but the Warriors (17-5 since March 1) and Blazers (17-6) are two of the hottest teams in the NBA heading into the postseason. If the Blazers can carry the momentum into the playoffs, they could extend this series further than we predicted. Don't believe us? Take it from Lillard, who told USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick, "It's about playing right at the right time, playing well at the right time, and we believe that we can beat anybody."
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