One enormous point to remember as the NBA playoffs get under way: Though the Warriors are the clear underdogs for many solid reasons, they also have the best, most dangerous player on either roster in this fascinating first-round matchup vs. Denver.
That would be Stephen Curry, and when's the last time the Warriors went into any playoff series knowing that their player was the single most important force — to either unleash or contain — in a playoff round? Maybe since Rick Barry in the mid-1970s? (The Mullin-Hardaway-etc. teams were very talented, but they kept running into Barkley-Payton-David Robinson-Magic-Kareem-KJ in their short playoff campaigns.)
This is no way alters the fact that the sixth-seeded Warriors will have a giant task ahead of them vs. No. 3 Denver, not the least being Denver's NBA-best 38-3 home record and the significance of this series starting with two games in the Mile High City.
To get any kind of footing, the Warriors will have to find a way to steal one of the first two games — the way they stole Game 1 in Dallas in 2007 to start their epic six-game toppling — and the Nuggets have proved that they know how to defend their home court with a vengeance.
The Nuggets are deep, they are athletic, they can run away from anybody ... and they also finished this season on a 23-3 run over the past two months, enduring major injuries and the potential for a lull.
By the way, in the same time span, the Warriors went 15-13.
But the Warriors have a slightly better than blind squirrel's chance at this mainly because they have Curry, who broke the NBA single-season record for 3-pointers Wednesday night and who, if the defense cannot get multiple bodies on him throughout the game, can put up 40 to 50 to 54 in a blink.
So, as with most series involving solid teams, this breakdown starts with the best player, and the logical question: Can Denver keep Curry from dominating games with his shooting? The answer: Yes, the Nuggets probably can because they've already shown they can do a decent job vs. Curry in the regular-season series, which Denver won 3-1.
Interestingly, while Curry shot a blistering 66.7 percent from 3-point distance in the four games vs. Denver, he only averaged 18.8 points ... and that's because he only made 25.6 percent from inside the arc.
That shows how well Denver coach George Karl's scheme limited Curry — Denver has a lot of long-armed mid-sized players, and Karl likes to employ an aggressive switching defense.
So if Ty Lawson starts on Curry and gets screened, the Nuggets don't panic, they just switch Wilson Chandler on Curry or Andre Iguodala or Kenneth Faried or Corey Brewer or whoever needs to jump out to stop the easy shot. That's a lot of guys to do that.
The Nuggets have given up some Curry deep looks, but they haven't let him get incendiary from all over the floor — once he dribbles, they're all over him.
What's the Warriors' counter to this? Well, it's simple to say that Curry has to hit some contested shots — easy to say, not easy to do, especially on the road in the thin air.
He's the best player, he's going to have to take it upon himself, maybe a little recklessly, and maybe shoot the Warriors in or out of a tight game. He did that at Davidson a few times, didn't he? Meanwhile, Klay Thompson got some pretty regular open looks vs. Denver (sometimes he didn't think so well through those moments early in the season, of course), and David Lee had one monster performance in the one Warriors' victory against Denver.
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