With Blazers center Nurkic out, the Warriors are too big to fail

With Blazers center Nurkic out, the Warriors are too big to fail

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 3 coverage starts Saturday night at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

OAKLAND -- The Warriors won Game 1 by 12 despite being torched by Portland’s two best players, and they dominated Game 2 without their most efficient player. They know where this is headed, and so do the Trail Blazers.

Even as this first-round series shifts to Portland this weekend, even as Blazers forward Maurice Harkless insists Game 3 represents the “must-win” phase, it is 96 minutes from its conclusion.

The sweep is on and it’s a shame. This could have been a mildly intriguing series if not for the absence of Jusuf Nurkic leaving Portland with a gaping hole at center.

Things being as they are, though, Warriors big man JaVale McGee can eat all he wants. Through two games, he has 21 points, on 10-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots. Coming off the bench in both games, he has inflicted this damage in less than 23 minutes.

Starting center Zaza Pachulia and primary backup David West aren’t facing any more real resistance.

“Without Nurkic, they're basically playing smaller lineups,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So we're just trying to mix and match at that five spot and find the right combination.”

All combinations have been effective, largely because Portland as currently constituted is the least imposing team in the playoffs. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are fabulous; they’re also 6-foot-3 guards trying to carry a prohibitive underdog. These are not the Blazers that soared into the playoffs with a stirring six-week stretch run. They had a legitimate NBA center for most of that stretch.

Now they have none. With Nurkic on the sideline, there is not the scantest rumor of a competitive series.

Let’s face it: Portland wouldn’t be here without Nurkic, who was sensational after being acquired in trade on Feb. 13. The 7-foot “Bosnian Beast” became the first Blazer to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in his first 20 games since 1978, when Klay Thompson’s father, Mychal, managed the feat. The Blazers were 14-5 when Nurkic started, 27-36 in their other 63 games.

And now, thanks to a fractured leg, Nurkic is sitting. Down 2-0, it would be silly and ultra-risky for the Blazers to bring him back for Game 3 on Saturday and downright pointless to summon him for Game 4 Monday.

Meanwhile, backup center Ed Davis is recovering from shoulder surgery. The only other legitimate center on the roster, our good friend Festus Ezeli, has not played a single minute this season and is rehabbing his knee.

So the Blazers are left with Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu -- a stretch-5 and two relatively ordinary power forwards.

“You don't have time to think about that, Lillard said of Nurkic’s absence. “If you look at a guy and say, man, if we had Nurk, it would be different, we'd be down 20 by the time they turn their head back around.”

Just as there is reason to believe the Blazers will put forth their best before their fans at Moda Center, there also is reason to believe it absolutely will not matter.

The Warriors are up 2-0 even with Thompson shooting 36.4 percent. They’re up 2-0 with Stephen Curry negating his 10 assists with nine turnovers. They’re up 2-0 with Kevin Durant playing in only one of two games.

They’re up 2-0 while still idling because they pose problems for which the Blazers have zero answers, such as the concept of JaVale McGee as an unstoppable force.

“We can't allow JaVale McGee to come in and impact the game the way he has,” Lillard said. “We've seen him play a number of games, and he has his moments. But he's not coming in doing what he's been doing in these first two games. We've got to try to limit that if we want a chance to win games.”

A glance at the Portland “big men” leaves us with a single question: How?

LeBron reacts to Kyrie Irving trade: 'What a ride...'

LeBron reacts to Kyrie Irving trade: 'What a ride...'

The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving lasted just three seasons.

Despite making it to the NBA Finals in all three seasons, Irving wanted out of the partnership.

On Tuesday, he got his wish as the Cavs traded him to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick.

While the rumor was that Irving didn't want to play with James anymore, the four-time MVP had nothing but nice words to say about Irving on Twitter a few hours after the trade became official.

"That's the only way to be to the kid! Special talent/guy! Nothing but respect and what a ride it was our 3 years together Young Gode," James wrote in response to a short video of a fan placing a 'thank you' note on Irving's No. 2 Cavs jersey.

James and Irving won't have to wait very long to see each other again. The Cavs and Celtics face each other on Opening Night in Cleveland.

All the NBA deck chairs have been moved, but it doesn't even matter

All the NBA deck chairs have been moved, but it doesn't even matter

The Kyrie Irving-from-LeBronville Heights-to-Bahstin trade is rightly being called a blockbuster because it engenders so many concepts at once – making the second-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference seemingly better than the first-best team with one phone call and five shifted bodies.

At least that’s how it plays outside the Bay Area, because now that the Golden State Warriors have taken ownership of the entire league, Kyrie Irving’s whereabouts don’t actually change the balance of power – because there is none.

There’s the power, and there’s the other 29 teams.

Plus, and this is a forgotten element through all the machinations of the NBA’s Meth-Bender Summer, the league is fighting over individual pieces when the Warriors are preaching the virtues of the mega-ensemble.

Irving wants to be the focus of his team, which seems to fly in the face of Boston’s ball-movement philosophy. Paul George, who complained when he didn’t take the last shot in a playoff game this April, is in Oklahoma City with the master of the me-first game, Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony is still in stasis but constantly mentioned as the next Houston Rocket, joining Chris Paul and James Harden in what would seem to be the living embodiment of The Total Is Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts ball.

Unless, of course, all these assumptions are wrong, and all the relocated stars suddenly find the virtues the Warriors displayed in boatracing the field this year and become not only unselfish offensively but more stridently devoted to defense. All these players are bright, determined, and seemingly open to new ideas (well, maybe not Melo, but even that is open to debate), but will they choose to be?

And even more compelling, will there be the immediate payoff in doing so?

On Question A, let us be charitable and suggest that they can do that. On Question B, however, such a return seems unlikely unless the Warriors either devote themselves to the pursuit of self or fail to avoid the medical department.

There is something worrisome about the sureness with which people are conceding 2018 – can all these self-absorbed morons be right? Things can happen to great teams, even in the NBA, which is the most hierarchical of sports.

But only the Warriors can beat the Warriors, because Kyrie Irving the Celtic does not seem at first glance to be better positioned for a parade than Kyrie Irving the Cavalier.

And that’s true of every roster move this summer. Deck chairs were moved for a better view, but the bridge is manned by the same captain, at least for the time being.