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?

Warriors as healthy as ever while playing waiting game for next opponent

Warriors as healthy as ever while playing waiting game for next opponent

OAKLAND -- Now that the Warriors have gone through a full-squad scrimmage for the first time in three weeks, there is only one issue to be resolved before they get back to the business of the playoffs.

Whom to play? And when?

As of Friday afternoon, the Warriors had no idea of either.

They will face the winner of the Clippers-Jazz first-round series, in which Utah took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 Friday night in Salt Lake City.

“Why are we talking about Utah like the Clippers are done?” Draymond Green wondered after fielding several Jazz-related questions after scrimmaging.

Well, because the Jazz won Games 4 and 5 and is favored to win Game 6 at home. If they win, they’ll come into Oracle Arena Sunday afternoon to meet the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

If the Clippers win Game 6 to even the series, those teams will meet for Game 7 Sunday in Los Angeles, with the winner advancing to face the Warriors in Game 1 of the conference semifinals next Tuesday night in Oakland.

In any case, the Warriors appear about as healthy has they have been at any time since February.

Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, out with a finger/hand injury since Game 1 (April 16) of the first-round series against Portland, participated in the scrimmage, as did veteran forward Matt Barnes, who last played on April 8, when he sustained a bone bruise atop his right foot.

“They practiced today and they even went through the scrimmage,” acting head coach Mike Brown said. “But we’ll wait for our training staff to clear them, after they see how they feel today and (Saturday).”

In short, if swelling is minimal, both will be available for Game 1, regardless of when.

So, too, will Kevin Durant. After a strained left calf kept him out of Games 2 and 3 against the Trail Blazers, he started and played 20 minutes in decisive Game 4 without any ill effects.

Nothing changed during the scrimmage Friday.

“It felt great out there,” he said. “Nothing bothered me. It was definitely good. I’m just trying to hopefully put that injury stuff behind.”

Durant conceded that he continues to receive treatment and ice, but mostly to minimize potential swelling.

Durant makes plea to NBA officials: 'S--- talking is part of the game'

Durant makes plea to NBA officials: 'S--- talking is part of the game'

OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant wishes more NBA officials had a better grasp of the language of the game.

They don’t seem to understand that “trash talk” almost always is little more than an act in which healthy emotions are released. It’s as much of the game on the court as pointing out a bad haircut or a fashion error in the locker room.

“I was raised that if you weren’t talking on the court, then something (bad) is going on,” Durant said after Warriors practice on Friday.

Durant caught a glimpse of the chatter earlier this week between former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook and Houston guard Patrick Beverley in decisive Game 5 of the Thunder-Rockets series and was disappointed when the officials slapped each with a technical foul.

“I was like, ‘Man, just play on. It’s a part of the game,’” Durant said.

Though Durant himself is not a premier trash-talker, he plays alongside one in fellow forward Draymond Green.

“That’s why we started playing, to talk a little s--- here and there,” said Durant, who grew up in the Washington D.C. area. “Draymond is really good at it. There are a lot of guys in the league that are good. More guys are quiet now than before.

“But s--- talking is a part of the game. I love it. It’s fun when you’re on the same team as a guy that does it. And then, when you’re playing against it, it’s even better because it brings the best out of you.”

For Durant, there always will be a place for trash talk on the court. Not only did he experience it while growing up but he also was indoctrinated in the practice from the moment he arrived in the NBA in 2007.

He recalls, with fondness, being targeted as a rookie by Kevin Garnett and a few other Celtics.

“When I came into the league, that’s when the Celtics had just got together,” Durant said. “Paul Pierce and KG and those guys talked bad to me as a rookie. I was 19. And they talked so bad to me. And I was talking right back. It was just a fun exchange. That’s what basketball is about.”

Now if only he could get officials to realize this.