The Warriors have momentum on their side. They have won two straight games, are finding ways to hit the key shots that turn the tide of the game, and nearly every adjustment head coach Mark Jackson has made has worked out in their favor.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are still searching for something sustainable that works. And now they’re down 2-1, the Nuggets could really use something stable to lean on to help them pull out a win. They came to Oakland looking to win two games to head back to Denver up 3-1 and in command of the series. But since that’s not going to happen, a split and a regaining of home court advantage is more than good enough.
Getting there, however, will require more adjustments, especially in the form of lineup construction to help hold down the Warriors’ offense. Digging through lineup data at this point in the series is difficult simply because there’s not a large enough sample to make any definitive statements. There’s a lot of noise in the numbers and it’s difficult to trust them fully.
That said, one grouping seems to have the right ingredients to affect what the Warriors like to do on offense. And that’s the trio of Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, and JaVale McGee. When those three share the floor, the Nuggets have a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 88.5.
Brewer is a on the ball pest and a guy who can chase players around screens. Iguodala is one of the best wing defenders in the game. And McGee’s length and athleticism can really affect shots in the paint. When you put those three together, you have a pretty good defensive core to slow down the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson while having the ability to slow down Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry in the paint.
If that Denver trio is added to a Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler duo, that lineup has the makings of a versatile group who can slow the Warriors’ offensive attack while scoring enough points on the other end. Whether Karl turns to this specific group or not isn’t necessarily the point, however. The point is that he must find a group like this one who can get the stops they need while also putting enough pressure on the Warriors’ defense to create separation.
From the Warriors’ end, they simply need to keep doing what they’re doing until the Nuggets find a way to stop it. Mark Jackson has pulled all the right strings and put his players in positions to succeed. As long as he can continue to get Curry in positions where he can act as scorer and facilitator his offense will be fine. And with Andrew Bogut anchoring the defense, things are looking good enough on that side of the ball too.
So, while it will be the players on the floor who have to perform, don’t discount what the coaches are going to have to do to put their respective teams in position to win. So far, Jackson has proven to be a step ahead of Karl and has the series lead to show for it. But if Karl can find the right groupings today, he can put his team right back in the driver’s seat with only three games to play and two of them in Denver.