The Golden State Warriors are one of the NBA's most exciting teams. They feature a young roster of players who love to play an up-tempo style and can light up the scoreboard. It allowed them to earn the sixth seed in the Western Conference to set up a matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
It's far from an ideal opponent for the Warriors. The two teams play similar styles, but Denver is slightly better in every area. Golden State ranks seventh in scoring, Denver ranks first. Golden State is third in rebounding, Denver is second. The Warriors play fast, the Nuggets play faster.
In other words, the Warriors will need to elevate their level of play from the regular season if they have any hope of keeping pace with the Nuggets over a seven-game series. They lost three of the four prior meetings, although one of the defeats came in overtime.
As for injuries of note, USA Today lists Danilo Gallinari as out for the season and Kenneth Faried as questionable for Game One for Denver. Draymond Green and Andris Biedrins are both listed as questionable and Brandon Rush is out for the Warriors.
Let's take a look at the schedule for the first-round series. It's followed by the Golden State's regular-season numbers and a complete breakdown of what to expect from their matchup with the Nuggets.
|1||Saturday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m.||Pepsi Center||ESPN|
|2||Tuesday, April 23 at 10:30 p.m.||Pepsi Center||TNT|
|3||Friday, April 26 at 10:30 p.m.||Oracle Arena||ESPN2|
|4||Sunday, April 28 at 9:30 p.m.||Oracle Arena||TNT|
|5*||Tuesday, April 30 at TBD||Pepsi Center||TBD|
|6*||Thursday, May 2 at TBD||Oracle Arena||TBD|
|7*||Saturday, May 4 at TBD||Pepsi Center||TNT|
*Denotes if necessary.
Regular-Season Record and Stats Leaders
Points Leader: Stephen Curry (22.9)
Rebounds Leader: David Lee (11.2)
Assists Leader: Stephen Curry (6.9)
First-Round Series vs. Denver Nuggets
Biggest Strength: High-Scoring Trio
Led by Stephen Curry, the new single-season three-point king, the Warriors have three players who can post a monster point total any given night. David Lee and Klay Thompson are the others. Having that many major scoring options is a distinct advantage in postseason play.
Most importantly, it prevents against one player's slump causing an entire playoff run to collapse. Even if Curry has a rare off night, Golden State should have enough firepower to pick up the slack. The same goes for Lee or Thompson. It's definitely a nice luxury to have.
A majority of the pressure will remain on Curry's shoulders. The Nuggets are probably going to throw a lot of different looks at him in an attempt to get him off his game early. He can't shy away from attacking the rim if Denver is selling out to stop him from long distance.
Biggest Weakness: Defense
There are two ways to look at Golden State's defense. On a positive note, the Warriors did improve on last season's defensive performance, which was one of the worst in the NBA. Yet, they are still no better than average on that end of the floor.
They ranked 19th in points allowed and 13th in defensive efficiency (via ESPN) during the regular season. Given those numbers, it's going to be an uphill battle for them to slow down the league's highest-scoring offense. The Nuggets are averaging over 106 points per contest.
Some players, such as Thompson, have certainly shown improvement on that end of the floor. But as a group, they still fall short. The only way to pull off the upset in the opening round is an improved defensive effort, which is a tall task given the opponent.
Best Matchup: David Lee vs. Nuggets Post Players
Lee had eight more double-doubles during the regular season than any other player. He's not nearly as flashy as some of his teammates, but he's as reliable as they come in the post and is the main reason the Warriors rank third in rebounding.
Now, Golden State needs him to play at an elite level against a middling Denver front line. The Nuggets are a wing-oriented team, which makes post dominance less important, but it does open the door for Lee to have a huge series if he's in attack mode from the opening tip of Game 1.
If there's one drawback about Lee, it's that he hasn't really shown that natural aggressive instinct. He's always been happy to defer to players like Curry and Thompson while putting up solid numbers in the shadows. The Warriors need him to change that in this series by being a true go-to player.
Worst Matchup: Harrison Barnes vs. Andre Iguodala
There were plenty of question marks about Barnes' ability to transition to the NBA after the Warriors took him with the seventh pick in the draft. His rookie season had its fair share of ups and downs. And although progress was made, Iguodala holds the clear edge.
The longtime member of the Philadelphia 76ers had a strong first season in Denver. He maintained his across-the-board production to the tune of 13 points, five assists and five rebounds per night. One day, Barnes might be able to match those numbers, but not yet.
All the Nuggets can hope for is that Barnes can have a good enough showing in his first playoff series to avoid Iguodala reaching a dominant level. If he can excel on the offensive end and limit the differential, the Warriors will at least have a chance to overcome the poor matchup.
Key Player: Klay Thompson
Thompson is a budding superstar. The improvement from his first season to his second was obvious, and there's still plenty of time for him to keep growing as a player. That's bad news for defenses around the league. It's also something the Nuggets understand heading into the series.
While Curry is going to score his points and Lee should have success down low, the Nuggets can't afford to let Thompson go off. If all three of Golden State's top scorers are allowed to find their comfort zone, suddenly Denver will be on upset alert.
Thompson did finish on a high note, averaging over 20 points per game in April. It was his highest total of the season and was fueled by strong shooting from beyond the arc. If he can carry that hot streak into the postseason, the Warriors are a much bigger threat.
The future is bright for Golden State. If the franchise can keep its core together, there are going to be a lot of series victories in the future. That said, the advantage in this series definitely goes to the higher-seeded Nuggets.
Denver features a tremendous amount of depth and, as mentioned earlier, are slightly better at the style both these teams like to play. Expect a very exciting, high-scoring series with some tremendous individual performances. The Nuggets should advance pretty quickly, though.
Denver Nuggets in five games