Series Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans

After a shocking first-round upset of the Portland Trail Blazers, the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Golden State Warriors in the second round.

The Golden State Warriors arguably underperformed in their opening round series. While the team was missing their best player, Golden State had a massive talent advantage over the San Antonio Spurs and could easily have swept them. While the Warriors' strong start in Game 1 was encouraging, the team will need to play better than they did in the opening round to make it out of the Western Conference.

Their second-round opponent, on the other hand, dramatically exceeded expectations in their first-round matchup. The Portland Trail Blazers were the heavy favorites going into the series; however, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans won the series 4-0 in the only sweep of the first round of the NBA playoffs. While the Warriors will still have the talent advantage in this series, Davis and Jrue Holiday's stellar play in the opening round (along with fantastic performances from Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic) would indicate that this series might be tougher than many would have expected.

Season Series: Golden State 3-1 over New Orleans

The Golden State Warriors did take the season series over the Pelicans, winning three of four games. However, this season series is not going to be particularly relevant in determining the outcome of this playoff matchup. The Warriors won the first three games (all of which were in 2017 and featured DeMarcus Cousins), while the Pelicans' only win came on April 7th against a depleted and unenergized Warriors squad.

Scouting Report: Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors will probably lean less heavily on Klay Thompson than they did in the previous round. While Dejounte Murray and Danny Green both did admirable jobs in trying to guard Thompson, no guard in the NBA  has been more locked in on the defensive end in these playoffs than Jrue Holiday. Holiday almost single-handedly took Damian Lillard out of the picture in the last series, and he will look to lock down Thompson in this round. Then again, Holiday might have someone else to worry about in this series:

If Steph Curry is in fact healthy for Game 1, the scouting report for the Warriors changes dramatically. Even with Curry not at full strength, the Pelicans will still have to guard him out to the halfcourt line, opening up space for the rest of the Warriors' offense. Golden State was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league with Curry out but the team was good enough with him in the lineup to still lead the league in shooting percentage from deep despite him missing 31 games. If Curry plays, the Warriors should shoot far better than their poor 33.6% mark from long range against the Spurs.

Scouting Report: New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans at full strength could conceivably push the Warriors to 6 or 7 games. Golden State already struggles enough with Anthony Davis; add in a healthy DeMarcus Cousins (along with Nikola Mirotic when either star big hit the bench) and the Warriors would be in trouble. While Cousins' injury sadly diminishes the ceiling outcome for this Pelicans team, their play in the first round shows that they can still be quite dangerous even without DeMarcus.

The Pelicans will look to run their offense through their two remaining stars: Davis and Jrue Holiday. Both of them were nearly unstoppable in the first round, and both are also major factors on the defensive end. The Pelicans, however, are quite weak on the wing--their only starting caliber wing player is 6'4" E'Twaun Moore, who has little to no chance of containing Kevin Durant.

3 Keys to Victory

1. Steph Curry needs to play in at least one of the first two games.

2. Kevin Durant needs to take advantage of New Orleans' overmatched wing defenders.

3. The Warriors must make sure that Jrue Holiday is held in check (since keeping Davis out of the stat sheet will be basically impossible).

Key Matchup

The most important matchup in this series will be down low, as Golden State's primary focus needs to be on making sure that Anthony Davis has as little open space as possible. Davis averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game against the Warriors in the first round back in 2014-15, and has given the Warriors fits throughout his career.

The Warriors are limited in their options in terms of keeping Davis in check. Kevon Looney will get pushed around by AD in the paint, and JaVale McGee will not be able to keep tabs on him in pick-and-roll coverage. David West is too slow, and Draymond Green is too small. It would be interesting to see if Kevin Durant can guard Davis for some portions of the series, but beyond KD and Draymond the Warriors do not have many defensive options for the Pelicans' star big man.

Series Prediction

The New Orleans Pelicans were hotter than any other team in the first round. All 22 of the panelists on ESPN's pre-playoff roundtable picked the Blazers to win the series, and that consensus was shared by most of the world's basketball fans. Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic looked better than they had all season in the first round, and Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were arguably the two best two-way players in the first round.

However, the Warriors still have more than enough talent to win this series--especially if Curry returns for one of the first two games. The Warriors will have a difficult task on their hands in trying to lock down Davis, but the Pelicans will be hard-pressed to keep up their hot streak from their series against Portland after nearly a week off. This series could pose some issues for Golden State if Curry misses time, but if he plays the entire series the Pelicans do not have much of a chance.

Final Prediction: The Golden State Warriors defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 4-1 to advance to the second round.

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