Trail Blazers-Warriors Preview
The Golden State Warriors are trying to bounce back from two straight losses for only the second time this season. After being dominated in the paint twice, they'll try to shore up their interior defense Friday night when they host the Portland Trail Blazers, who have won four in a row.
Golden State (22-12) strung together four consecutive wins before losing to the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis, the team's first back-to-back losses since Nov. 9 and 10. Shoddy defense taxed the Warriors in both defeats as they allowed 48.9 percent field-goal shooting to teams they're chasing in the Western Conference standings.
"We played two teams who we are trying to chase," said Stephen Curry, who averages a team-high 20.2 points. "Two teams who are right there in front of us in the standings who we understand have been playing great basketball just like we have. There is no need to panic. ... We just have to keep grinding and play 48 minutes."
Golden State's defense was exploited inside in both games. The Warriors allow an average of 40.8 points in the paint, but gave up 56 to the Clippers on Saturday and 60 in Wednesday's 94-87 loss to the Grizzlies. Golden State is 5-10 when yielding at least 41 points in the paint and 17-2 when allowing 40 or fewer.
"That's the strength of their team, is grinding in the paint and offensive rebounding," said David Lee, who has double-doubles in 11 of his last 14 games against Portland, including each of the last three. "It's disappointing, because that's been one of our strengths throughout the season, and we've just got to come back and do a better job of it next game."
It could have better luck against Portland, which ranks 28th in the league with an average of 35.9 points in the paint, but the Trail Blazers are brimming with confidence after rallying to defeat Miami 92-90 on Thursday.
Portland (20-15), which trailed by as many 12 in the fourth quarter, took its first lead since the opening minutes on Wesley Matthews' 3-pointer with 26.9 seconds left. Nicolas Batum had a team-high 28 points while LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Blazers, winners of 12 of 15.
"Our confidence is extremely high,'' said Matthews, who is averaging 22.3 points in his last four games - 6.6 better than his season average. "Playing hard, playing well, we're having fun out there. So that's a great combination."
One of the reasons Portland is finding its rhythm is the play of Damian Lillard. He leads all rookies in scoring (18.0 per game) and assists (6.5) and will be playing in his hometown of Oakland for the first time.
"I think he's the Rookie of the Year," Miami's LeBron James said of Lillard. "He's exceeded all expectations and more. I think he will become great."
Lillard will be looking to lead the Trail Blazers to their fourth straight win over the Warriors after dropping the previous four meetings.
Portland is playing solid perimeter defense, holding its last eight opponents to 31.0 percent 3-point shooting, but it could have its hands full against Golden State.
Curry and Klay Thompson are second and third, respectively, in the NBA in 3-pointers made with 103 and 93. Both are shooting particularly well over the last nine games, with Curry going 38 of 72 (52.8 percent) and Thompson knocking down 29 of 60 (48.3).