Warriors playoff preview: A quick look at the matchup with Jokic and the Nuggets

The Warriors’ regular season is over and their playoff matchup is set. They’ll face the No. 6 seed Denver Nuggets in the first round as the West’s third seed.

Golden State and Denver will tip-off for Game 1 at Chase Center on Saturday, April 16 at 5:30 p.m. PT.

Denver’s reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has carried his team — largely single-handed — to the playoffs for a fourth straight year, making a bid for a repeat individual crown. He’s done it this year without the Nuggets’ second- and third-best players, point guard Jamal Murray (ACL) and forward Michael Porter Jr. (back).

He’s the only player in the top 10 of all three of the NBA’s “triple crown” stats: Points per game (27.1, 7th entering Sunday), rebounds per game (13.8, 2nd) and assists per game (7.9, 8th).

The Nuggets maintain Murray, who tore his ACL last April at the Chase Center, could still return to the court this postseason after missing the entire regular season. The same is true for Porter, who signed a five-year max extension in the offseason, then played only nine games before being sidelined by a nerve issue in his back.

Here’s what to know about how the Warriors may match up with Denver:

Season series: Nuggets won 3-1

Denver took the first three games of the season series, but the Warriors won the final matchup on the road with a late flurry from Jordan Poole and Steph Curry.

X-factor: San Jose native Aaron Gordon

Gordon joined the Nuggets last season via trade, appearing to set Denver up for title contention before Murray’s injury. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer at 15 points per game and has taken on most major defensive assignments on the perimeter. In last year’s playoffs, he was swapped onto a scorching Damian Lillard, so it’s plausible coach Michael Malone could deploy him on Steph Curry rather than matching him up against Andrew Wiggins.

Matchup to watch: Jokic vs. Warriors’ centers

Jokic’s offensive exploits have been less effective against the Warriors in his career than against almost any other team. His 55.7 career true shooting percentage against Golden State is second-worst only to Atlanta.

Draymond Green may have something to do with that. Between Green’s energetic approach on defense and Kevon Looney’s physical stature, the Warriors have two different kinds of defensive strength to throw at Jokic. The Serbian star has counters to both approaches — taking Green inside and drawing Looney to the perimeter — but whether he’ll be able to employ them consistently remains to be seen.

Hole to exploit: Perimeter defense

Beyond Gordon, the Nuggets don’t have many plus defenders to slow the Warriors at the point of attack. If they choose to use him on Curry, that means Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole will match up against Will Barton and Monte Morris. Either of those matchups is a win for the Warriors on the offensive end as Morris in particular simply doesn’t have the size to guard up a position in most situations.

Way-too-early prediction: Warriors in six

Contributed by local news sources

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