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Curry return looms large prior to Pelicans matchup

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New Orleans Pelicans vs Golden State Warriors

Just like everyone predicted, the Warriors will play the six-seeded Pelicans — the only team to sweep in round one — starting Saturday.

All jokes aside, New Orleans absolutely decimated the Trailblazers and should prove to be a far greater test for Golden State than the overmatched and undermanned Spurs were.

The question hovering atop the minds of the Bay Area — including the Warriors players and coaches themselves — is when Stephen Curry will return to the court. Friday marked five-weeks since he sprained his MCL — the original timeline given for his return.

Should he need an extra week that would put his return somewhere around Game 3, but the date right now is anyone’s guess.

Steve Kerr, who was ironclad that Curry wouldn’t play in the first round, has been vaguer about Curry’s status for round two, referring to him as both day-to-day and questionable. He’s fully returned to practice and looks to be on the brink of a return — that fact alone has perked many ears.

The Warriors showed they can grind out a series without their point guard, but they also know that without him the style of play is much more taxing, both physically and emotionally.

Rotation Pieces

Strength in numbers isn’t just the saying that’s been emblazoned on the Warriors playoff merch the last three seasons; it’s the guiding philosophy of Kerr. And he definitely practices what he preaches.

Kerr has consistently gone 10-deep in his rotation during the playoffs when most teams shorten their rotation. The funny part is that he has shortened it, he normally goes with a 12-man rotation in the first half alone.

The Pelicans are the exact opposite; Alvin Gentry differs from his former boss and shortens his bench to eight players. And really only seven play more than 15 minutes a game, while nine different Warriors top that minute mark. That might have something to do with why the Warriors routinely put their opponents away with third quarter runs.

And in a playoff series where every possession is a high-leverage, high-intensity trip down the court, the Warriors ability to spread out their minutes will help them deep in games.

MVP AD?

Anthony Davis went nuclear in the first round averaging 33 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the four games, while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. He’s been playing at this insane level ever since DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles injury.

He has also been doing it from all over the floor, being a monster as the roll man in pick-and-roll, getting loose from midrange and going to the line almost 10 times per game.

The Warriors are not going to stop him, that’s impossible, but they have the ability to make life much harder for him than it was against Jusuf Nurkic.

Draymond Green will get the call for a good majority of the game but Kevin Durant and whoever the Warriors start at center will also most likely take turns on Davis. Green has the ability to bother him — as much as any human being can bother one of the biggest match-up freaks in the association — but what they are going to do is pack the paint and sag off Rajon Rondon and probably E’Twaun Moore as well.

Golden State will also make Davis move on defense. While Davis has the ability to be otherworldly on defense, he can still be exploited on that end of the court, especially when he’s in motion or out on the perimeter.

Matchup to Watch

Jrue Holiday vs. Klay Thompson

It’d be easy to put Davis vs. Green here, but Davis is going to get his regardless. But Holiday has arguably been just as important to the Pelicans.

After averaging 19 points per game during the regular season, he pumped that up to 27.8 against the Trailblazers, and has coupled that with some stellar defense. He’s reminded everyone how good he is when healthy. Though that was against a Portland team that isn’t exactly a world-beating unit when it comes to defensive guard play.

It’s actually been the first time he’s been fully healthy in his Pelicans career as he played in just 34, 40, 65 and 67 games his first four years with the franchise. His 81 games this year mark just the second time in his nine seasons that he played in more than 80 games.

That’s essentially the bizarro-Klay, as Thompson was forced to miss time with injury for the first time this year. And though they’ve had different years-to-date, they match up with both hitting their strides in the first round. Thompson shot over 50 percent from deep and hounded everyone in the San Antonio backcourt.

If he can keep that up in the next round, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Pelicans role players.

Most Important Warriors Role Player

Andre Iguodala

With the Pelicans personnel, this sets up as a prime series for the Warriors super-sub. His versatility is always on display but should play a huge roll for them in the second round.

The Pelicans don’t play a center outside of Davis, and even he can’t be confined by the center distinction. That’s going to allow Iguodala to match up with everyone on the floor for New Orleans.

Iguodala may start on Nikola Mirotic, who bombed the Blazers from deep. He may also see time against Rondo, the Pels top playmaker, and sag into deep help or even Holiday to give Thompson some breaks.

He’ll be the key on defense, and he’s going to need to keep hitting his shots, but as we’ve seen in the past, when it’s the playoffs he can do all the above.

Prediction

Warriors in five


Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.

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