Stephen Curry backs down the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza at Oracle Arena on March 31. Curry says he and the Warriors feel confident entering Sunday’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Stephen Curry backs down the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza at Oracle Arena on March 31. Curry says he and the Warriors feel confident entering Sunday’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Blazers enter playoffs on hot streak, but Warriors remain heavy favorites

The Golden State Warriors played the Portland Trail Blazers four times in the regular season. They won all of those games by a combined margin of 80 points.

But — it’s worth noting — the last time the two teams met was at the end of January, and a lot has changed since then.

The Warriors had to deal with losing a former MVP in Kevin Durant, a circumstance that allowed them to redefine their identity as a defense-first unit, granting them the ability to be a more dynamic team. The move took them to new heights, and the team couldn’t feel any better entering the playoffs.

“I feel good. I feel confident,” Stephen Curry said. “We got everybody healthy, and the way that we ended the season this year, besides the last two games — defensively really elevating our performance on that end of the floor — everybody’s pitching in.”

Meanwhile, the Blazers made the best deal of the trade deadline by adding Jusuf Nurkic, a skilled big man desperate for a change of scenery after falling out of favor with the Denver Nuggets. It only cost them Mason Plumlee, who proved several times over incapable of slowing the Warriors at the rim.

But as has been a typical problem for talented Portland big men throughout history, Nurkic has been sidelined for the last seven games by a non-displaced fibular fracture in his right leg.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters on Friday that Nurkic’s status for the series opener is “undetermined,” leaving the door open for him to play against the Warriors.

Nurkic’s ability to play in the series should prove pivotal to how competitive it is. But even if he is able to suit up, it’s unlikely Portland will prove a real threat to the Warriors, winners of 15 of their last 16.

That isn’t to say that the Blazers will be a pushover. They won’t. They are riding a hot streak — albeit more modest — by taking 12 of their last 16 contests to establish themselves as the eighth-seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

And the dynamic backcourt of Oakland native Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum did give the Warriors one of their most competitive series, even if it was a five-game series victory for Golden State, last year in the second round.

It’ll take a consistently excellent effort to unseat a Warriors team playing its best basketball. And no matter how you feel about either team, it’s a time to rejoice as the games actually matter again.
Draymond GreenGolden State WarriorsKevin DurantNBAPortland Trail BlazersStephen CurrySteve Kerr

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