In one of the most intriguing matchups in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the sixth seed Denver Nuggets, led by reigning MVP Nikola Jokic versus the red hot three seed Golden State Warriors, led by the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who returns to the playoffs together for the first time in three years. Can Jokic hold off the offensive firepower of the Golden State’s backcourt or will Curry and Thompson once again rise to dominance?
Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets – NBA Playoffs Preview
The Regular Season
Ending the season on a high note, ala Thompson’s signature 40+ point game, the Golden State Warriors have begun their journey back to prominence. But it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. Outside of awaiting his return from injury, the Warriors lose their key big man James Wiseman and suffer the reality of what happens when Draymond Green isn’t in the starting lineup. The positives? Jordan Poole is an NBA stud. The 3-year man from Michigan has become essential in Golden State’s success, cranking his game to the tune of a +9.7 point increase from his rookie year all while passing his resident chef teammate in league-leading free throw percentage.
But nothing compares to the absolute power and grace of one Nikola Jokic. The 2021 NBA MVP has literally been forced to become a one-man show while running mates Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have been out with injuries. But it hasn’t been easy with the potential back-to-back MVP putting up monstrous numbers through his 74 games played this year. Boasting per game career highs in points, steals, and rebounds, the Serbian will need just as much from his supporting cast.
With a 1-3 season series loss over the Nuggets, the Warriors will be out for revenge. But a lot of questions will go into this series…
The first question is one of the biggest for Golden State: When will Stephen Curry play? Based on tweets and reports, it may be as soon as Game 1.
Steph Curry on track to play Game 1 https://t.co/wUpeWYbshr
— Katy Winge (@katywinge) April 14, 2022
Throw in the fact Thompson is starting to look like the five-time NBA All-Star of old and you’re looking at a rough stretch for Denver. But can both Curry and Thompson maintain their own stretch together? Regular season numbers state that may not be the case as both Splash Brothers have only played seven games together in 2022, which isn’t much experience in getting back to a groove.
The same cannot go for the Denver Nuggets, who have been extremely fortunate front office-wise with their player pickups for the lack of better terms. Being led by a nine-year veteran Will Barton, a trade chip from 2015, the Nuggets may not get the same production as they would from Murray, but still gives you high energy on both ends. Giving you close to 15 points and five rebounds per game, Barton gives you a dependable lead guard to play along with the microwaveable Monte Morris, who adds in a career-high in points and assists, totaling 27 points per game out of your backcourt alone.
All in all, this will come down to health and father time. Jamal Murray has a chance to return to the playoffs if the Nuggets get to the 2nd round, but for this series, it’s not possible. But will Stephen Curry be able to ramp up his production to be inquiry free and play consistently? And is Klay Thompson ready to carry the burden if Curry goes down? In these cases, it’s hard to bet against the former back-to-back champions.
Advantage: Golden State Warriors
A small 5, you cannot go wrong with Draymond Green anchoring your frontcourt defensively. His numbers may not impact the box score but the Michigan State vet will continue to prove why he should always be in DPOY conversations. But it will not be without help, as rumors have swirled that Andre Iguodala may also be ready to be thrown in the mix for Game 1 to combat the size. However, the attention may be on Andrew Wiggins. A stunner of an All-Star selection, the former first overall pick has transformed from a role player throughout his Cavalier days to an All-Star now with the Warriors. Will he be ready for his first taste of playoffs again since the 2018 Timberwolves?
That is something that does not equate with the experience in Denver. So much can be said about the double-double machine of an NBA MVP, but the focus will fall on Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green. For Aaron, it’s another chance to prove some NBA pugilists wrong: he’s more than a dunker. Hitting his highest average point total and free throw percentage since 2018, Gordon has completed a much-needed hole at the three for Denver. Alongside him is the Brooklyn Nets’ unsung hero of last year’s playoffs, Jeff Green who may be undersized at the four but brings a much-needed veteran leadership.
Will there be a sudden recapture of playoffs past from Iguodala where he becomes the lockdown defender needed to stop a driving Gordon? Has there been a better NBA playoff battle than between Draymond Green and the Jokic? And imagine Jeff Green, who finds a fountain of youth type performance over the younger Wiggins counterpart? Experience always outweighs youth.
Advantage: Denver Nuggets
The most underrated story in this series will not just come down to the stars, or the injuries. It will come down to chess.
Imagine being Steve Kerr, rarely seen shaken by either loss of players due to injuries or brief losing streaks, now has a redemption story to build. A team he’s led to success now is seemingly the underdog. You ask questions such as will Curry be on a minutes restriction? How much time do you give firecracker Jordan Poole on the court? The biggest question is how do you contain a Nikola Jokic? None of these are easy to answer, but there will be a focus on how Kerr handles these obstacles.
The same can be said about Michael Malone. Brought in in 2015 from Sacramento, Malone came in with little fanfare. Yet, three years later after his hire, his team was back in the playoffs as one of the only “one superstar” teams. Then, Jamal Murray’s growth kicked in, the breakouts of Malik Beasley and Will Barton, and making them all work. Is Malone prepared to play one big chess match against an Eight-time NBA Champion player/coach?
Advantage: Golden State Warriors
Final Prediction: Golden State Warriors in 6
This match-up will not be without excitement. This would be the first time the original big three of Curry, Thompson, and Green would be on the court in the playoffs in years. Match that against one of the most criticized NBA MVPs in league history in Jokic trying to show why he was worthy of the trophy last year.
In the end, it is hard to best against their starting backcourt, Poole’s continuous great play, and with Jonathan Kuminga on the horizon, there is not much doubt that the Warriors are prepared for this year’s NBA Playoffs. The Nuggets may be step one.
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