NBA

Three things that will decide Trail Blazers-Warriors series

By Sports Desk May 14, 2019

The Western Conference Finals begin on Tuesday when the Portland Trail Blazers travel to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1.

Golden State has overcome several postseason injuries to key players while Portland has surpassed the expectations of most.

Omnisport looks at three things that could determine the outcome of this series between the Warriors and Trail Blazers.

Kevin Durant's health

The absence of the postseason's top scorer will definitely affect Golden State's offense. Durant has not played since Game 5 of the second round, when he suffered what has been described as a mild calf sprain. One report on Monday said the star could realistically miss four to five games of the Blazers series while recovering.

Durant has averaged 34.2 points per game through 11 playoff contests, but he is effective elsewhere as well. The two-time NBA Finals MVP averages 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. 

His tall frame and astonishing quickness make him one of the NBA's most versatile defenders. His mobility allows him to guard any position and create plenty of mismatches when he initiates the offense.

Part of what makes Golden State so great is their seemingly limitless arsenal, but with two starters down with injuries - Durant and big man DeMarcus Cousins - the Warriors seem considerably more vulnerable.

Stephen Curry is battling a dislocated finger and that makes matters even worse.

Damian Lillard's efficiency

Damian Lillard was not at his best in the second round. 

The Trail Blazers star struggled to be efficient against the Denver Nuggets. He averaged 25.1 points per game in the series but shot just 39.6 percent from the field. He was worse from deep, making just 27 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.

Lillard is deadly when he is on form, and he will need to be that to counter the most efficient three-point shooting team in the playoffs. The Warriors are shooting 37.2 percent from range and will likely throw plenty of bodies at Lillard to limit Portland's offense. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala will likely be assigned these roles.

Lillard was phenomenal in the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. He averaged 33 points per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from deep.

These numbers probably will not be replicated, but it is clear that Portland's star is capable of so much more. He will need to play closer to his ceiling to reach the NBA Finals.

Bench production

Golden State's rotation choices could be interesting moving forward. The Warriors' bench minutes seemed to diminish against the Houston Rockets. Durant's injury forced them to surprisingly use 11 players in their decisive Game 6 win against Houston.

The Warriors got 33 bench points in that contest, which is unusual for a team that ranks 14th in reserve points per game out of the 16 teams in this year's playoffs. The Warriors are averaging 22 bench points per game, but Portland have not been much better.

The Trail Blazers rank 10th, averaging 27.8 bench points per game.

Getting unexpected baskets from second units could be the force that pushes one side over the top.

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