Durant down (maybe) -- Warriors, too?
SAN FRANCISCO — I smell something brewing, and it's not a Caffe Trieste latte.
To the national conscience, the Trail Blazers are Buster Douglas looking for a sneak knockout of Iron Mike Tyson in Wednesday night's Game 2 of their series with Golden State at Oracle Arena.
Portland center Jusuf Nurkic has been ruled out for at least Wednesday, and I'm getting the feeling Blazer brass is thinking it best not to risk the big man's future for the now in this series.
But after the Blazers met with the media before their Tuesday practice at Cal-San Francisco Mission Bay, big news trickled out of Warrior camp across the bay in Oakland.
Kevin Durant is questionable for Game 2 with a strained left calf muscle. Also listed as questionable are reserves Shaun Livingston (sprained finger) and Matt Barnes (sprained ankle). If the trio sits this one out, the Warriors are not only shorthanded on the bench but without the one player for which Portland has no answer.
After scoring 32 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in Golden State's 121-109 Game-1 victory, Durant brushed off a question about beckoning a trainer to check out his leg late in the game.
"I'm cool," Durant said.
"I'm not sure if he felt it at the end of the game, or if he felt it after," coach Steve Kerr said. "We'll see how he feels (Wednesday)."
In Sunday's opener, the Blazers had the advantage in the backcourt with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard outplaying Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And while Golden State's supporting cast held a decided advantage over its Portland counterparts, there is hope from the Rip City contingent that things will improve in Game 2.
But Evan Turner or Moe Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu against Durant just isn't a fair fight, no matter how you draw it up.
Take Durant out of the equation and you have something, though — especially if Livingston and Barnes are on the sidelines, too.
That means Kerr would likely use sixth man Andre Iguodala alongside Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia on the starting front line. It would still leave JaVale McGee, Ian Clark and David West coming off the bench, but the reserve corps would go from deep to relatively thin.
Portland's chances would have been enhanced with the presence of Nurkic, who missed the final seven regular-season games and Sunday's playoff opener with a non-displaced fracture of his right leg.
The "Bosnian Beast" was at Tuesday's practice, and understandably uncomfortable talking about his playing status. He made it clear team officials — including general manager Neil Olshey, the team doctors and the medical staff — are being careful with the body of their potential franchise center. They're concerned if he comes back too soon from injury, further damage could be done.
Given the history of the franchise's big men (see Walton, Bill; Bowie, Sam; Oden, Greg), it's a sensitive and sore subject, pun intended.
"It's crazy to talk to me about that, because I go day by day," the 7-footer said. "I'm not going to be ready for Game 2. Being honest, I don't know what's going to happen for Game 3."
Could Nurkic play right now?
"No matter how I feel, I need to be smarter than just wanting to play," he told me. "I'm 22. I don't want to risk anything. But right now, definitely I want to play. I'd do anything for that.
"I want to be in the playoffs. It's crazy to say I don't want to play. I just need to be smarter. The team is right. I need to be more watching the future."
McCollum probably won't duplicate his career performance in Game 1 — 41 points on 16-for-28 shooting, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range, plus eight rebounds in 41 scintillating minutes. His individual duel at shooting guard with the Warriors' Thompson (15 points on 6-for-16 shooting, 1 for 6 from beyond the arc) was simply no contest. That may not happen again.
"I took it as a challenge, both on a team and personal level," McCollum said Tuesday. "But it's about the Blazers and the Warriors, not about me and Klay or Steph and 'Dame'. It's about trying to make our teams win."
But Lillard — who scored 34 points but was 12 for 26 from the field and 3 for 9 from the 3-point line — can be better, at least at the offensive end. If he makes three more shots, including a couple of treys, that could make the difference.
Then there are "the other guys." Everyone agrees they must be more of a factor than in Game 1, when they combined to shoot 12 for 39 and left the Warriors (notably Green) to sag off their men and clog the middle, facilitating 10 blocks and a host of hurries.
"The shots were there," coach Terry Stotts said. "When the opportunities are there, we have to take advantage of them. Dame and CJ had great games, but we need more scoring.
"We lost the game in the fourth quarter because we didn't shoot the ball well and we turned it over. We have to score against (the Warriors) to have a chance, and that means everybody."
So it's a matter of players such as Turner and Harkless and Noah Vonleh and especially Aminu and Allen Crabbe knocking down open jump shots when they present themselves. And it's about McCollum and Lillard trusting their teammates to do just that.
"Me and CJ are going to do what we have to do as far as scoring and creating opportunities for us on that end of the floor," Lillard said. "But we have to do a better job of finding guys on the weak side and giving them opportunities to do more.
"(The Warriors) know it's going to be a handful for one guy to stop either one of us. A lot of times we got to the paint and there were two or three guys meeting us at the rim, which means somebody was open. We'll still be aggressive and take those shots if necessary, but we have to make those passes and make those defenders respect what guys can do on the weak side. By knocking down weak-side 3's, (the Warriors) have to go from help (defense) to closing out on the perimeter."
Golden State scored 24 points in transition Sunday. Part of that was the Blazers missing 53 of their 93 field-goal attempts.
"Offense and defense are tied together," Stotts said. "When you have the other team taking the ball out of the basket, it gives you a chance to set your defense. Most transition (points come from) missed shots and turnovers. When you're able to score, it helps you at the other end."
Portland had 10 fast-break points Sunday. Stotts wants more.
"I always want to push it, and especially in this series," he said. "The fewer amount of times we play against their set defense, the better. It takes a lot of energy to defend the way we want to defend and still push the tempo, but we have to look for those opportunities."
Don't think the Blazers aren't confident of their chances after losing Game 1. Quite the contrary.
"We're not here for moral victories," Aminu said, "but it showed that we're very capable of beating that team."
"Every game is a winnable game for us," McCollum said. "We just have to play a full four quarters. We'll try to steal one before we go home."
To do that, they'll have to up the ante, even without Durant on the floor.
"We played a good game, but we didn't win the game," Lillard said. "We understand we can play with them, but there's a difference between being able to hang around and lose than to actually win the game.
"We're not happy that we played a pretty good game and lost, because we want to win. We want to come back stronger next game and get a win."
If Durant plays, and plays like Durant plays, it's still a tall order.
If he sits this one out, I like the Blazers' chances.
The results, let me suggest, may require a special edition of "Upset Illustrated."