#1 — Golden State Warriors
No, they didn’t win 74 games this season. But the retooled Warriors are back as the Western Conference’s top-seed and are looking to avenge their historic collapse from last year’s NBA Finals. And they will get to do so at full strength.
Kevin Durant returned to Golden State’s lineup last week after missing 20 games with a sprained left MCL. Despite missing more than a month, the former league MVP posted back-to-back double-doubles in his return to action.
However, even with all of the weapons at their disposal, the Warriors have no slouch matchup in the first round. The Portland Trail Blazers have some firepower of their own to potentially give Golden State a run in this series, and maybe even sneak out a win.
Although, between their two 25 point-per-game scorers in Durant and two-time MVP Steph Curry — not to mention Klay Thompson and his 22.5 points per game — and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green, the Warriors are as talented as ever, and should be able to sidestep Portland when it’s all said and done. Boasting the NBA’s top offensive rating and the second highest defensive rating, the Warriors are a true two-way team entering the playoffs this season.
Expect the defending Western Conference champions to hit the ground running as they begin their quest for a second NBA championship in three years.
#8 — Portland Trail Blazers
The team with the highest scoring backcourt coming into this first round matchup is surprisingly Portland, not Golden State.
That’s right, the duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combine for an average of 50 points per game, scoring 27 and 23 a night, respectively.
However, for the Trail Blazers to have anything more than a puncher’s chance in this playoff series, they need quality minutes from currently injured center Jusuf Nurkic. After coming over from Denver in a trade on Feb. 12 Nurkic set fire to Portland’s run towards the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But after suffering a leg injury at the beginning of April, their best weapon to combat Golden State’s high-octane offense may not be a hundred percent.
Should Nurkic be able to play, and resemble the player that helped rejuvenate Portland’s playoff hopes two months ago, he and the Trail Blazers have the potential to drag the Warriors down into a rock fight. With no true big man to defend the interior for Golden State, Portland can dump the ball inside to Nurkic and let him bang around on the block. This gameplan has been effective all season in getting the Warriors out of their comfort zone.
In the event that Nurkic can’t give it a go, or simply isn’t himself while playing injured, Lillard and McCollum will be forced to try and outshoot the Warriors. Despite being more than capable of scoring when they need to, it’s been proven a tall task to try and beat Golden State at their own game.
Who wins Game 1?
Golden State shows up to a packed Oracle Arena with all of their shooters and wins Game 1.
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