Game 1 of the Warriors-Nuggets playoff series tips off Saturday afternoon. It figures to be the epitome of Western Conference basketball. Both teams have skill and depth, which will make for an interesting chess match between Denver coach George Karl and Golden State’s Mark Jackson.
Neither team has the A-list star to carry them to the next round. That puts added emphasis on the plethora of interesting match-ups featured in this series. Throw in some injury issues, experience gaps and crazy home courts, and you’ve got the makings of something riveting.
Here’s a look at the key match-ups in the series and who has the advantage.
Nuggets: Ty Lawson
Denver is renown for being a dangerous team without a star. But there is a head to the snake, and it’s the 5-foot-11, fourth-year guard out of North Carolina. Lawson leads the Nuggets in scoring average (16.7) and assists (6.9). He is one of the league’s better floor generals, orchestrating the best up-tempo team in the league.
Warriors: Stephen Curry
He has emerged as one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game. His shooting ability combined with his ballhandling and underrated passing skills make him a quandary for opposing defenses. He forces teams to do something to take him out of the game — double team, trap, put a defensive specialist on him — and that often opens up options for his teammates.
Advantage: Golden State. Both will be the primary focus of the opposing defense, but Curry creates the most problems.
Nuggets: Kenneth Faried
For every game Faried misses because of a badly sprained ankle, Denver will be lacking a significant piece. The Nuggets wouldn’t just lose his 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds. But Faried is the biggest force behind Denver’s physical edge, which is part of what the Warriors have a problem with against the Nuggets.
Warriors: Andrew Bogut
He, too, his dealing with ankle issues. While Faried is expected to miss Game 1, Bogut will play on a left ankle that’s still not 100 percent. When Bogut is on his game, he changes things for the Warriors. He’s their answer to penetration and gives them much needed presence and physicality in the paint.
Advantage: Denver. If Faried can’t go, obviously that favors the Warriors. But assuming both can play, Faried’s impact will be felt on both ends.
Nuggets: Wilson Chandler
Denver lost forward Danilo Gallinari for the rest of the year when he tore his ACL earlier this month. That opened the door for Chandler, who decided to kick it down. In eight starts since Gallinari went down, he’s averaged 18.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 30.6 minutes.
He presents a different type of problem from that of Gallinari, who stretched the floor with his shooting. Chandler is aggressive and physical. He’s doesn’t create much offense, but he’s effective in the open court and can finish.
Warriors: David Lee
Mr. 20 and 10 is a problem for most defenses. If his midrange shot is clicking, that usually opens up his game quite a bit. At times he can look unstoppable. And if Faried isn’t playing, he just might be.
But the biggest thing for Lee is to crash the boards. Golden State can push it on offense when he is rebounding and getting it out quickly. Since Denver is the league’s best offensive rebounding team, Lee’s boards are even more important.
Advantage: Warriors. This isn’t the ideal matchup for Lee, but he usually produces no matter the opponent.
The Swiss Army Knives
Nuggets: Andre Iguodala
He scores. He facilitates the offense. He fuels their fast break. He defends three positions and has the ability to rebound and start the break on his own. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and a team-best 1.74 steals. Denver will need all of that.
Warriors: Klay Thompson
His reputation is as a shooter. But Thompson is the Warriors’ best perimeter defender and can penetrate and pass a little. When he’s pulling out the full arsenal, he is that third impact player the Warriors need. But too often, he’s just a shooter.
Advantage: Denver. Iguodala is an All-Star caliber veteran who’s been to this dance before.
Nuggets: JaVale McGee
If he’s on his game, the Warriors don’t really have an answer for him. Bogut can’t run with him. The other center options, Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins, can run with him but leave the Warriors lacking on offense. If the Warriors go small and put Lee or Carl Landry on him, McGee has the size advantage. The best thing going for the Warriors is that McGee isn’t always on his game.
Warriors: Harrison Barnes
He is the Warriors’ answer to Denver’s rampant athleticism. When Barnes is aggressive and attacking, he gives the Warriors a slasher and a finisher. But Barnes isn’t always aggressive.
Advantage: Denver. McGee’s rebounding is key and his dunks can be demoralizing.
The Game Changers
Nuggets: Corey Brewer and Andre Miller
At some point, Denver coach George Karl will make an adjustment and bring in these two. Because of the duo’s versatility, Karl can throw multiple looks at the Warriors and play multiple styles. Brewer and Miller aren’t going to dominate the game, but they can hurt you.
Warriors: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry
They have been the ol’ reliables for Golden State all season. Jack provides steady ballhandling and allows shooters Curry and Thompson to play off the ball. Landry gives the Warriors some inside scoring and forces opposing bigs to play one-on-one defense.
Advantage: A wash. Tough call, but the Warriors usually give up something when Jack and Landry are in the game. But they can dominate a game like Brewer and Miller can’t.
Nuggets: George Karl
A favorite for Coach of the Year, Karl has built a storied career mastering Xs and Os. He maximizes the talent on his roster and he’s been through this all many, many times before.
Warriors: Mark Jackson
Jackson has established himself as an avid motivator. His players go hard for him. He’s consistent with his system and game plans, which helps his players to execute.
Advantage: Karl. A future Hall of Famer vs. a second-year coach in his first playoff appearance.