Blazers

Blazers to Embark on the Test of Their Lives

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The Western Conference Finals are here after a wonderful second round.  It is hard to imagine too many people expected to see the Blazers here, especially after losing Jusuf Nurkic to a season-ending injury.  Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have taken over in various games and their bench has played better than fans expected.  Enes Kanter, Rodney Hood, Seth Curry and even Evan Turner have had significant moments in the playoffs that have all helped them get to where they are now.

Contrarily, the Warriors, the favorite to make it to their fifth straight NBA Finals, have had a rockier path than expected.  DeMarcus Cousins exited the lineup in the first round with a quad injury.  Kevin Durant had a similar scare in the second round, but will be reevaluated later this week to determine when he can return.  Given these situations, what should we expect from here?

Season Series

The Blazers and Warriors do have a history of playing each other evenly and this season was no different.  The two teams split the four games this season.  Golden State won at home in November convincingly and again in Portland at the end of December.  Two days prior to that second win though, Portland scored a key road overtime win and followed that up with a blowout win at home heading into the all-star break.

Since then there have been some tweaks to each roster, with Enes Kanter and Andrew Bogut making their first appearances against each other.  One player that should be a constant will be Dame Dolla. He averaged 28.3 points and 6.5 assists per game in the season series, highlighted by a 40-point game and the overtime game winner in December.  Lillard will need to be up early and often for Portland to keep up with Warrior firepower regardless of Kevin Durant’s status.

Mass Unit Makes for an Unlikely Matchup

Both teams are coming into this series more depleted than during any of their other meetings this season.  Kevin Durant is out for at least Game 1 and likely Game 2 due to a strained calf.  He will be re-evaluated after those two games to determine an official timetable for return.  There are no current updates on DeMarcus Cousins either, so Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney will have to step up in their place to handle interior defense in this matchup.

For the Blazers, the loss of Jusuf Nurkic was well-documented, but Enes Kanter was able to answer the call and impressed many against the Thunder in Round 1.  However, he has been playing through a separated shoulder that should slow him down in this series.  Zach Collins has been taking steps forward in his second season and Portland will have to rely on him in the paint.  The shooting has been hot for both teams which should make up for some of the interior issues.

Twitter Beef and Brotherly Love

There is some bad blood in this series that some fans may not be aware of.  Last summer following the Boogie signing, Kevin Durant appeared on the CJ McCollum “Pull Up” Podcast. McCollum took exception with the signing.  Durant proceeded to laugh and tell McCollum to let the people at the top of the standings care about these things and the Blazers can just keep caring about the regular season.  This was on the heels of the Blazers disappointing sweep against the Pelicans.   Durant described them as “playing like an 8 seed”.  Nothing ever came of this beef, but this will likely be bulletin board material leading into the match up just one season later.

Lillard makes no secret that he believes he is overlooked in the hierarchy of present day point guards.  Steph Curry makes for his foil, which would have been an unlikely match up when they were at Davidson and Weber State.  Throughout these playoffs, Lillard has taken out rivals old and new in Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray.  This will be the biggest challenge for the All NBA guard so far.  In this unlikely match up, this individual match up will define the series.

Most of these players do have friendships or rivalries, but there is one link that is something more.  This will be the first time brothers will meet in the conference finals, with Seth and Steph Curry facing off.  Everyone knows about the legend that Steph has been building over the last five years.  Seth Curry is coming along in his own right.  He is proving to be an invaluable bench contributor for the Blazers and a sharpshooter just like his brother.  Both Curry’s seem to be excited for the challenge and look to embrace a special moment.

Forecasting

Experience and championship-level talent look to be the defining factor when predicting this series.  The Warriors are entering their fifth straight conference finals, something only the Lakers have matched in the West.  Portland, on the other hand, is returning for the first time since 2000.  This is the third meeting in the last four years for these teams in the post season.  While it is an unlikely match up on paper this season, it is not uncommon.  Unfortunately for Portland, the Warriors have won eight of the nine games.  The Trail Blazers are on a magical run for a wonderful fanbase.  Sadly, they lost their beloved owner this season.  More and more fans are appreciating Lillard and McCollum by the moment.  But the Warriors, like Thanos, have proven to be inevitable– and the Western Conference Finals are unlikely to be any different.

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