I was able to do something a little different last night, I decided to take advantage of having NBA TV and watch the Pacers vs. Warriors game in preparation of tonight's contest against Golden State. Stephen Curry and Co. have the difficult task of coming into the thin air of Denver after playing last night in Oakland.
The particulars ...
Golden State: 6-10 (key wins: vs. Portland, at Dallas (using just 6 players))
Denver: Chris Andersen (sinus infection) and Nene (right knee contusion) are listed as probable, but didn't practice yesterday (11-30).
Golden State: Corey Maggette (left hamstring) day-to-day. Kelenna Azubuike (left patellar tendon), Raja Bell (left wrist), Andris Biedrins (osteitis pubis aka ab muscles), Anthony Randolph (sprained ankle last night) and Brandan Wright (shoulder surgery) are all out.
Opposition's Take: Golden State of Mind
The task ahead of the Nuggets tonight is about the same as someone who is rebounding after breaking up with (or being broken up with) their significant other. After a relationship is over people tend to branch off in two directions ... the first, you start hitting the gym hard and improving the little things so that you come back as a better version of yourself. The second, you spiral downward by hitting the bars, making poor decisions and being a worse version of yourself.
If I had to put my money on one of the options ... I'd go with the first one. I think the Nuggets come out tonight as a better version of themselves, but it will not be an easy task against a very dangerous Warriors team.
Back in the 2007 playoffs one of the most exciting teams ever assembled took out a highly touted Dallas Mavericks squad. That Warriors team consisted of Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Andris Biedrins. This high scoring squad was fun to watch because they played such a loose style of basketball and they played at their best when they could turn things into a chaotic mess on the court.
Well, only Ellis and Biedrins (and Kelenna Azubuike, but he wasn't in the rotation then) remain from that 2007 playoff squad, but the Warriors have maintained the same style and inserted new players into the mix. After watching their 126-107 win over the Indiana Pacers last night I feel like I have a good understanding of what this team likes to do and how they go about doing it.
The Warriors still play at their best when they turn the pressure up on their opponent and they were able to turn the tide last night against the Pacers. Down 14 (yikes ... sounds like the Minnesota game!) in the third quarter, the Warriors went on a 25-12 run to end the quarter up 85-83. There wasn't a very sound offensive gameplan from what it looked like other than, "play at a breakneck pace and take the best available shot." And in the final period, the Warriors ran the Pacers out of the building.
Where the Warriors were finding success started with Ellis. After scoring 18 points in the first quarter by attacking the hoop with crazed purpose, Ellis finished the game exactly how he started it ... by being ultra aggressive and making an array of layups, jumpers, and a three-pointer (including 14-16 from the foul line). The Pacers could not cover him and they could not stay in front of him, no matter who tried ... Brandon Rush? Not even close. Dahntay Jones? No chance. Ellis finished with a career high 45 points after fouling out with just over six minutes to play in the game ... he actually fouled out on what should have been a blocking foul and a chance for a three-point play as he made the layup, but Danny Crawford blew the obvious call. So, Ellis' quest for 50 points was stopped short.
The positive for Denver is that Arron Afflalo (who is a little bigger, but certainly not quicker) should get the task of defending Ellis and Billups will be able to guard the quick, but undersized Stephen Curry. The rookie didn't do anything to impress me last night and he had a pretty easy matchup being guarded my the miniature T.J. Ford. Not sure why, but Curry never got into the offensive flow ... hopefully Billups can keep things that way tonight as shooters like to shoot and Curry finished just 2-5 last night. Another guard who can come in and create havoc is C.J. Watson ... he played well last night and was on the floor and a big part of the Warriors comeback victory. Watson is quick, a lefty and can pretty much do it all. He may be a problem for the Nuggets tonight if they didn't scout him (like say ... Chris Douglas-Roberts in the first Nets game.)
Anthony Morrow fills the offensive role left by Stephen Jackson ... long distance shooter, but not as good of an all-around scorer. Morrow doesn't like to drive to the hoop and will settle for jumpers. He's also undersized at 6'5'' and Melo should have a good cover if he remembers to stay with Morrow and not float down into the lane, thus giving him wide open looks. What Morrow does like to do is take big shots, like Jackson, and he will make them as he did last night (4-6 from three-point land and 18 points).
Corey Maggette didn't seem to be suffering any lingering effects from his hamstring injury, but he also doesn't look as athletic as he used to with the Clippers. Maggette is transitioning his game (whether he realizes it or not) to fit more of a traditional role rather than the athletic swingman role he enjoyed during his earlier days. Maggs is still a physical player, can score when needed and is the best option the Warriors have to guard Melo. If Morrow defends Melo for extended time ... look out, Melo's size and arsenal are too much for him.
Vladimir Radmanovic holds down the starting power forward spot for Golden State, at least until Ronny Turiaf can get back to 100%, and that is not a good thing. Rad-Man only saw 24 minutes last night and was invisible on the floor. The better option for Golden State would be to bench Radmanovic and just start Anthony Randolph already, but I'm not sure they want to live with some of his basketball decisions. Unfortunately, I was looking forward to seeing Randolph tonight, but he suffered a sprained ankle last night after slipping on the floor and is listed as "out" for tonight's contest. Turiaf looks rusty and Rad-Man looks washed up ... Kenyon Martin should take advantage and see if he can get to the rim and become a force on the boards.
The Warriors seemingly weakest spot is at the center position with Biedrins sidelined. In his place G.S. has been starting 34 year-old Mikki Moore and he's basically a real live Ichabod Crane. Andrew Feinstein favorite, Jeff Foster created havoc on the offensive glass early last night by just getting position on Moore. If the Nuggets make a team effort on the offensive glass they will dominate, at least when Moore is in the game. The undersized Warriors do not do a good job protecting the rim on rebounds or when players drive the lane.
Whenever the Pacers went to the hole ... they had success. There was just little defensive effort to stop penetration by the Warriors. Mike Dunleavy, whose knee wont allow him to play above the rim right now, got layup after layup when he drove to the hoop early. Even Earl Watson grabbed an offensive rebound between two G.S. "bigs." The man that should see more time tonight is Chris Hunter, former Michigan player and NBA D-Leaguer. Hell, if I was Keith Smart (coaching for Don Nelson, while Nellie is sick) I'd start Hunter. The guy showed some fire and really ... what's the point of starting 34 year-old Moore when you have such a young team?
The Warriors are not a team that quits. They have too much scoring pop to give in and too much youth to know any better. The Pacers had them on the ropes, but couldn't close the game out in the second half and the Warriors just flipped a switch and started gaining confidence with each possession. There was a helpless feeling coming from the Pacers and you could just tell that they were going to lose last night as the Warriors made their move and never let up.
Golden State, much like Denver, plays at their absolute best when they are mixing attacking the lane with unselfish passing. Defense is not a premium for Don Nelson's crew, but they like to jump the passing lanes and pressure the ball. If Denver can work the ball inside, they will find easy buckets.
Defensively for Denver ... this is a huge test. By now we've all heard Billups' and K-Mart's postgame comments about the slap in the face loss to the T-Wolves. Usually you'd expect a high-caliber team like Denver to come out tonight and play a suffocating style of defense and really take it to their opponent in a physical manner. Denver can do this, but the styles of both teams don't lend to that type of game.
Will we see a better version of the Nuggets tonight? I'd like to think so, but this game has "high-scoring affair" written all over it.
Views you can use:
- Denver is just 3-2 when Billups fails to score in double-figures.
- The Warriors through 16 games have given up 114+ points 7 times this season.
- NBA TV announcers said after the game last night that the Nuggets are 17-1 when teams come to town on the second night of a back-to-back from the Pacific Time Zone.
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Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Paul Sakuma