The NBA’s Western Conference Playoffs have been fascinating. To date, all series have played 2 games. As each series shifts cities, let’s take a look at some of the most important stories so far.
The High Octane Warriors
There was some concern that Steph Curry wouldn’t be healthy for the postseason. Through 2 games, Steph has come off the bench but it has not mattered. The Golden State Warriors have thoroughly embarrassed the Denver Nuggets.
In our preview, we talked about Denver being able to defend in space being a key to the series. A lot of that involved targeting Nikola Jokic. The reigning MVP is an improved defender, but when you can repeatedly put him in pick and roll every action, you’re bound to find cracks.
For example, The Warriors are great at using other teams’ inclination to ignore Green on the perimeter against them. Jeff Green turns his back on Draymond, pick and roll with Jokic in the action, slow rotation and Draymond gets an easy dunk.
Golden State has used Draymond at center in a lineup with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins for 11 minutes in the first two games. They are a +29 on the court. Draymond has shut down Jokic 1 on 1 and has made it extremely hard for Denver to get anything done offensively.
The Nuggets have yet to play a home game but it does feel like a series that won’t be long. Expect Denver’s best effort in Game 3 but that may not be enough the way Golden State is playing. They are systematically breaking down Denver and you hope they will respond with the requisite effort.
The Big Injuries
With Phoenix Suns star guard Devin Booker now out with a strained hamstring, there are two big injuries looming over the West playoffs. Booker’s hammy joins Luka Doncic’s calf, which has the Dallas Mavericks in a dog fight with the Utah Jazz. Both Suns/Pelicans and Mavericks/Jazz are tied at a game apiece but feel like different series.
It’s been the same song for the Utah Jazz. Chemistry issues, defensive breakdowns at the point of attack and rough the fourth quarter in Game 2 have them asking the same questions. Should they keep Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert together? Why are they struggling this much? It’s 1-1 and they’re not the team with home court and yet it feels like they’re down.
With Luka Doncic now listed as questionable for Game 3, his sudden inclusion into the series might be able to tip the scales for Dallas. They’ve played admirably so far, getting a 41-point performance from guard Jalen Brunson
After only scoring 34 points in the 1st half of Game 1, it feels like the New Orleans Pelicans have found their game. Brandon Ingram got it going in Game 2(37 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) and their supporting cast stepped up. Injuries do happen, but you still have to take advantage and that’s what New Orleans did. Now they have a shot to turn this series into something real competitive with their 125-114 victory.
With Booker set to miss at least the next two games, a lot more will be placed on Chris Paul. CP3 had the great fourth quarter in Game 1, but he’s going to need more help. Center Deandre Ayton is going to have to assert himself more in Booker’s absence. The Suns are more than capable of winning this series, but now it feels like they have less of a margin for error.
Tweaks and Adjustments
After the Minnesota Timberwolves were so successful in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, there needed to be a change. Head coach Taylor Jenkins made that adjustment, only playing center Steven Adams 3 minutes. Wolves center Karl Anthony Towns had his way with Adams in Game 1 and after Adams picked up two immediate fouls we never saw him again.
The Grizzlies as good as Ja Morant, but are also defined by their deep roster. Jaren Jackson Jr. switched onto Towns and was able to have an impact defensively. Xavier Tillman came off the bench with 13 points and 7 boards in 21 minutes. It didn’t help that Towns was in foul trouble but it was a great effort from the Grizzlies to adjust.
Going into Game 3, we’ll see if the Wolves can get D’Angelo Russell going and regain control. This is an interesting spot for Memphis being a team not big on playoff experience, and same for Minnesota as well. The West continues to shift, and we’ll find out who comes out when the smoke is cleared.