Biggest strength for the Warriors: Outside shooting.
The Warriors were the best 3 point shooting team in basketball this season, shooting 40.3% on the season. They boast three players who shot over 40% from beyond the arc in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jarrett Jack. In hitting an NBA record 272 threes on 45.3% shooting, Curry had the greatest shooting year in the history of the league. Three point shooting is the biggest advantage the Warriors have over Denver as well as their path to victory. Barring some bizarre happenstance where the Warriors all the sudden turn into a defensive stalwart, the only way Golden State wins this series is if they shoot Denver out of the gym.
Biggest strength for the Nuggets: The Pepsi Center.
Denver was 38-3 this season at home, as opposed to 19-22 on the road. It’s very difficult for opposing teams to last four quarters in that altitude with the Nuggets running in transition the entire game. The Nuggets are going to be without Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL, and Ty Lawson likely won’t be playing at 100%. Denver is far from a lock to win this series, but it’s hard for me to pick against them knowing that they’re going to have three of the first five games of the series,as well as a possible game seven, at home.
Biggest weakness for the Warriors: Inside defense.
Andrew Bogut is a shell of his former dominant self while Carl Landry and David Lee are atrocious on that end of the floor. Denver should be able to get to the rim in transition whenever they choose. In the half-court, the Nugget frontcourt excels in spacing the floor and forcing opposing bigs to play effective help defense in order to get stops. David Lee will likely be eaten alive. Denver will attack him constantly in pick and rolls or force him to make rotations as a helper, neither of which bodes well for the Warriors. They could play Festus Ezeli, but his complete and utter lack of an offensive game makes him very difficult to play for prolonged stretches against good teams. Andris Biedrins makes me laugh.
Biggest weakness for the Nuggets: Outside shooting.
Whereas the Warriors were the best outside shooting team in basketball, Denver was the 25th best hitting at just a 34.3% clip on the season. This becomes more of a factor because Gallinari is injured and Lawson likely won’t be at full strength. The Nuggets are going to rely on Wilson Chandler greatly to hit outside shots and they need Corey Brewer to shoot well in the corners. They’ve been playing around with Evan Fournier, but who knows how many minutes he’s realistically going to get. It’s likely Prof. Andre Miller will get most, if not all, the minutes Fournier could potentially play alongside Ty Lawson or as the backup point guard. Because the Warriors are a foul prone defense and don’t boast a defensive stopper, I imagine they’re going to try and bait Denver into as many threes in the half-court as possible. It’s easier said than done, but if the Warriors can get Denver taking 22-27 threes a game they might just be able to get enough stops to win a few games.
Prediction: Denver in 6
A month ago I would have called Denver winning this series a straight up lock. I still think they take it, but I don’t feel nearly as confident as I did previously. Against an average to slightly above average team like the Warriors, they should be able to overcome Gallinari’s absence. What worries me is Lawson’s torn plantar fascia. He’s invaluable as the trigger man to that offense and probably their best outside shooter. Golden State likes to defend pick and rolls by forcing the ball handler into a 16 foot pocket and try and get him to shoot mid-range shots, a strategy adopted by many of the teams in the league. Lawson shoots slightly above league average on mid-range shots, but if he’s injured and drops below league average Denver will have problems.
Best case scenario for Golden State is that they shoot the ball with ridiculous efficiency, slow the game down, and pack the paint. Lawson isn’t 100% and the Nuggets have to throw up a bunch of threes. However I don’t see this happening enough for the Warriors to win 4 games. I don’t trust the Warriors defense at all and part of me doesn’t trust Thompson or Jack to produce either. Thompson seems to be either super hot or super cold and if the Warriors get the latter than they’re probably screwed. Jack is the same way and if he’s missing on long 2′s and pull up 3′s, Denver should turn those misses into transition points.
In the end, I think it’s very hard to overcome the other team scoring points in transition. I don’t think Golden State can control the pace consistently, nor do I think they can keep Denver out of the paint. However, the Nuggets are much more vulnerable than they were a month ago and Golden State could absolutely shoot them right out of the playoffs. Of all the first round series, I think this will be one of the best and certainly the most entertaining. I like Denver in 6, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in that pick.