The NBA’s Western Conference Finals tip off tonight at Oracle Arena as the Trail Blazers attempt to end the Warriors’ reign atop the conference. Even with Kevin Durant’s injury looming over the series, toppling Golden State will be a tough task for Portland.
(Games 5-7 if necessary. All game times 9 PM ET.)
-Game 1: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors | Tuesday, May 14
-Game 2: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors | Thursday, May 16
-Game 3: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers | Saturday, May 18
-Game 4: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers | Monday, May 20
-Game 5: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors | Wednesday, May 22
-Game 6: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers | Friday, May 24
-Game 7: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors | Sunday, May 26
Kevin Durant’s injury
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says the team is being intentionally vague about Kevin Durant’s status because they really don’t know when he’ll be back. KD is already out for Game 1, and he won’t be re-evaluated until Thursday, so this could be a week-to-week thing depending on how the check-up goes. The Warriors probably aren’t taking their opponent lightly, but they’ll probably need Durant more for a potential NBA Finals appearance than now, so don’t expect the two-time Finals MVP to be rushed back from his calf injury unless Golden State falls behind in the series and really needs him to push it—but no Durant certainly gives the Blazers a better shot to upset the NBA’s current dynasty. At least if Durant is unable to play in this series, there’s apparently a chance DeMarcus Cousins makes his return during the Western Conference Finals.
Steph vs. Seth
For the first time in an NBA conference final or Finals, two brothers will be playing against each other, as Stephen and Seth Curry line up on opposite sides. It’s a tricky situation for the family, as Steph already has three rings, and they’d probably love to see him win six or seven to make the most of his all-time great career (and maybe get a Finals MVP, which he hasn’t done yet); but Seth doesn’t have any rings, so you’d think they would rather see him get one. Steph obviously gets most of the recognition, but both Currys can shoot the lights out, and it’ll be fun to see them using screens to navigate and get open for threes throughout the series.
Dame and C.J.’s shot
Maybe I’m off on this, but it feels like Damian Lillard really wants the Warriors to be the team that the Trail Blazers knock off to get to the Finals. Lillard is from Oakland, and he’s the type of competitor that might take the opportunity to take out the champs as personal; and while there’s respect between them, there’s been past talk about how Lillard is just as good as Curry (if not better) but just doesn’t have an elite supporting cast. Meanwhile, C.J. McCollum, who brought Portland home in Game 7 last round against the Nuggets, was essentially big-timed by Kevin Durant on his own podcast last year, with Durant laughing at the idea that the Blazers could compete with the Warriors. We’ll find out about both things starting tonight.
Neither team in the Western Conference Finals is a great rebounding team, but they both get timely rebounds—particularly on the offensive end—in late-game situations. He’s an all-around playmaker that does more than just the dirty work, but this is really where Draymond Green might come in to play for Golden State—and Enes Kanter will be among those for Portland battling with Green underneath. If the Warriors get offensive rebounds and extra three-point shots from Curry and Klay Thompson, they’re basically unbeatable; but the Blazers aren’t bad themselves with Lillard and McCollum getting opportunities second-chance buckets.
These two teams split their regular season series, 2-2, but their last matchup was back on February 13, so things have changed since then. Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is out because of his March leg fracture, but Portland has done an outstanding job of rallying together—just think, people were saying the roster should be blown up this time last year. Still, they probably don’t have enough to beat a team like the Warriors. If Kevin Durant was healthy, Warriors in five would probably be the pick, but Golden State should still get to their fifth consecutive NBA Finals.
Warriors in six.