NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (52-34) at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (62-25)
Tip-off: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Golden State -7.5, Total: 222.5
After a sweep of the Blazers, can New Orleans give the Warriors a real challenge?In a first round that's had its fair share of surprises, by far the biggest shock was New Orleans dominating Portland in a series sweep. After losing C DeMarcus Cousins midway through the regular season, the Pelicans weren't widely favored to make the playoffs, let alone advance to the second round. But Gs Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo completely locked down Portland's more heralded backcourt, and delivered on the offensive end, as well. And PF Anthony Davis looked like the top-tier superstar he is, destroying the Blazers on the interior. Now, a far greater challenge awaits New Orleans in the second round in the form of the Golden State Warriors, whose five-game series victory over the San Antonio Spurs received very little attention, given that it was widely perceived as a foregone conclusion. Hanging over this series and the Warriors' entire postseason run is the absence of PG Stephen Curry, who has mostly been out since the beginning of March with a knee injury. Will he return in this series? Probably at some point, as Warriors GM Bob Myers was quoted on Thursday as saying that it was "conceivable" Steph could play in Game 1. Over the last five seasons, home teams coming off a no-cover, straight-up win as a favorite (GSW) are 16-43 ATS on Saturday games. Since 1996, games involving two teams each allowing between 43.5 and 45.5% shooting from the floor and having a rebounding margin between -3 and +3 are 54-14 Over against totals of at least 220 at the halfway point of the season or later.
Barely discussed in the national media during the regular season, Holiday emerged as a star against the Pelicans, suddenly looking like one of the best point guards in the league. He hounded Damian Lillard, pretty much embarrassing him, and delivered heavily on the offensive end with an average of 27.8 PPG in the sweep. His 41-point, eight-assist line in a competitive Game 4 suddenly had everyone considering their rankings of the best point guards in the league. And while his seasonal nature disqualifies him from such lists, Playoff Rondo has to be among the best point guards to ever play the game. He figures to notch a triple-double before this postseason is over, and averaged 12.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 13.4 APG. And like Holiday, he's an absolute menace on defense. The Warriors don't run nearly as many pick-and-rolls as the Blazers do, so it will be interesting to see how the Pelicans tailor their aggressive attack to a different system (and a much better offense). Davis was predictably dominant, but there was something different about seeing him win a playoff series for the first time in his career. His 47-point, 10-rebound, three-block outing in Game 4 put a bow on the whole thing. Also enabling New Orleans' surprising dominance was the play of PF Nikola Mirotic, who averaged 18.3 PPG and 9.5 RPG in the Portland series. He was a deadly 46.2% from deep in those four games.
There's a good argument that Curry is the best player in the NBA, and it speaks to the unbelievable talent on Golden State's roster—not that anyone was questioning it—that they disposed of the Spurs so easily without him. At the forefront of the offense was SF Kevin Durant, of course, who averaged 28.2 PPG for the series. His highest-scoring game was the Warriors' sole loss, when he has 34 points in Game 4, suggesting that the offense is better when the wealth is spread. It's no coincidence that SG Klay Thompson struggled in that defeat, scoring 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting. But Klay was otherwise on fire, averaging 22.6 PPG for the series and hitting 51.6% of his three-pointers—and he attempted over six per game. Sometimes with Golden State, you just have to hope that they'll miss shots that they normally would make. SF Draymond Green has struggled with his shooting pretty significantly, but attempted nearly six threes per game against the Spurs anyway. New Orleans would love for him to do the same against them, although it probably won't if and when Curry returns. Green has still played well overall, and was a monster in Game 5 against San Antonio with 17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists. SF Andre Iguodala and C JaVale McGee joined those three in the starting lineup for all five games. McGee typically plays 15-20 minutes, while Iguodala averaged 27.0 MPG in the series. At 34 years old, Iguodala—who has been functioning as a point guard—is not the weapon he once was for this team. His versatility and leadership, however, remain valuable. SF Kevon Looney and PGs Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook led the Warriors in minutes off the bench.