The Denver Nuggets finished 57-25, and finished No. 3 in the Western Conference. So, it’s not hard to understand why they’re favored to take down the No. 6 Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
Can the Warriors knock off Denver? Yes, they can. But they’re going to have to play well, and certainly better than they did against the Nuggets during the regular season.
Denver won three out of four from the Warriors, though Golden State was missing Andrew Bogut in each of the games. Interestingly, of the Warriors’ first 15 games this season, three were against Denver. The teams last played on Jan. 13, so they haven’t seen each other in a while.
Here are three things the Warriors will have to do to upset the Nuggets:
Take care of the ball: There are a few places where the Warriors are vulnerable and ball handling and decision-making certainly qualify as weak spots for Golden State.
Both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have had difficulty at times with turnovers. Curry has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio but he’s still susceptible to the high-turnover game and now’s when the team can least afford one. Thompson, too, has had his moments of shakiness with the ball.
Curry, Thompson and Jarrett Jack are going to have to keep things under control because Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala can be troublesome. What those three players can do is speed up the game and get you playing at a pace you’re not accustomed to. That can sometimes force turnovers and an even faster pace.
If the Warriors can limit turnovers, particularly at the top of the floor, it will help limit easy buckets and keep the pace at a favorable tempo.
Shoot the 3: It’s no secret that the Warriors have ridden the 3-point shot to a lot of victories. For goodness sakes Curry (272) and Thompson (211) almost hit 500 between them. But more important than how many 3-pointers the Warriors have made is the rate at which they make them … at a 40.3 percent clip.
Curry, Thompson and Jack each shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line for the regular season. If that threesome can hit from distance at that rate in the postseason, and rookie Harrison Barnes hits a few, too, it will give the Warriors a much better chance at pulling a first-round upset.
Rebound: Outside of the first game this season between the teams, the Warriors have done a nice job of hanging on the glass with Denver.
This is where Andrew Bogut comes in – if at all. Bogut didn’t play in any of the four games between the teams this year, and so he’s a wild-card of sorts.
He’s been bothered by a bruised ankle in recent weeks, but he started the season finale against Portland. You figure he’ll be in the starting lineup on Saturday for the opener.
Can Bogut keep up with the pace of the game? Can he give the Warriors some lane-clogging, shot-blocking and rebounding? Warriors coach Mark Jackson is only going to play Bogut if he believes Bogut can give the team something. And the first place Bogut is likely to start is the glass.
The better the Warriors rebound defensively, the fewer second-chance points for Denver. And the No. 1 priority will be to keep Kenneth Faried from dominating the interior.