After moving past the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans will square off in the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
There is a lot of intrigue going into this series. A fully healthy Golden State Warriors team would be a heavy favorite, but with the possibility of Stephen Curry missing a few games, New Orleans has a chance to make this competitive.
The Pelicans have been the surprise of the postseason, sweeping Portland in their first round matchup. Thanks to the typical dominance of Anthony Davis and support from Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic, New Orleans was able to overcome CJ McCollum’s scoring—and rendered Damian Lillard essentially useless.
The play of Holiday, Rondo and Mirotic is what makes this series so intriguing. We are used to seeing Davis carrying the load on both ends of the floor, but against Portland, his teammates stepped up and allowed him to take a breather for once.
Another point of intrigue is Davis’s possible emergence as the best player in this series. It may sound like a crazy statement, as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are in the series as well. Ever since the DeMarcus Cousins’ injury, however, Davis has gone to a different plane.
In his first full month without Cousins, Davis averaged 35 points (50.7 percent shooting), 13 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.5 steals per game. That month put him firmly in the MVP race, right near the top of the ladder with James Harden and LeBron James.
Davis recorded similar numbers in his four games against Portland: 33 points (57.6 percent shooting), 11.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.8 steals. The Blazers had no one to guard the behemoth that Davis is, so he made them pay.
Golden State has more to throw at Davis in Durant and Draymond Green, but they still cannot stop him. With a passer like Rondo running pick-and-rolls and Davis’s catch radius, Davis will give the Warriors all they can handle near the rim in the 2018 NBA playoffs.
It also helps that Davis has space around him. Rondo isn’t a reliable shooter, but he is capable. Mirotic shot 46.2 percent from deep (6.5 attempts) vs. Portland. Holiday is capable, and E’Twaun Moore shot 42.5 percent in the regular season.
It’s hard to imagine New Orleans being able to contain the Warriors on the other end, however. They did fine against Portland is the first round, posting a defensive rating of 104.3. But they will have to cover a lot more ground trying to defend Golden State.
Holiday, a good off-ball defender, is the type of player to give Klay Thompson some trouble. Davis should be able to clean up mistakes down low. Even though Mirotic was solid defensive against Portland, it’s hard to imagine him being as successful against Durant. Moore won’t be able to do it, either, being about seven inches shorter.
It’s hard to predict when Rondo will try on defense, and with Curry slated to return soon, that could end up being a nightmare matchup for the Pelicans.
For Golden State, Curry’s return is really the key here. The Warriors have gone easy on the gas pedal this season, mostly coasting along and waiting for the postseason. Allowing the Spurs to stay close in the first round may have worried some.
But now, facing a formidable opponent with Curry returning, it’s hard to imagine them not coming out hot.
We know these Warriors. They know who they are, too, which may explain the underwhelming regular season. They have two incredible forwards on defense—one of which is an offensive mastermind as well—and two of the best shooters of all time.
They even have Nick Young and JaVale McGee!
Despite how impressive New Orleans was in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs, it’s hard to see them topping the defending champs. The time is now for Golden State to slam on that gas pedal, and maybe the threat of Davis will be enough to wake them up.
How long this series goes depends on when Curry returns, but I see this one ending in a tight six games—with the Warriors coming out on top.
Game 1: Saturday, April 28, 10:30 p.m. ET in Oakland on TNT
Game 2: In Oakland, TBD
Game 3: In New Orleans, TBD
Game 4: In New Orleans, TBD
Game 5: In Oakland, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: In New Orleans, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: In Oakland, TBD (if necessary)