2022 NBA first-round playoff previews: (3) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
The Western Conference’s third-seeded Golden State Warriors and sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets meet in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs. The Warriors won the last playoff meeting between them in 2013.
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How they got here
Golden State Warriors (53-29)
The Warriors stormed out of the gate with an 18-2 record, looking very much like the pre-Kevin Durant team that won the championship in 2015 and 73 regular season games a year later. Klay Thompson was still on his way. The development of recent lottery picks James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga was only going to bolster the roster. Everything was coming up Golden State again after two years of injury-plagued misery.
Only, as soon as Thompson returned, Draymond Green went out with a back injury, and as soon as Green returned, Stephen Curry went out with a foot injury. They have started seven seconds together all season.
Since the start of January, the Warriors are 24-22. Wiseman will miss the entire season. Thompson's comeback from multiple ruptured ligaments has been predictably inconsistent, especially on the defensive end. Curry has not played in a month, and his status for Game 1 of this first-round series remains uncertain.
On the bright side, the Warriors saw Andrew Wiggins make his first All-Star appearance, Jordan Poole enter the Most Improved Player conversation, Gary Payton II play at an All-Defensive level and Kuminga show considerable promise. The hope is that Curry, Thompson and Green can get on the court together and hit the ground running again, based on the muscle memory of their years-long partnership. That is the hope.
Denver Nuggets (48-34)
The Nuggets entered the season without Jamal Murray at point guard and lost fellow rising star Michael Porter Jr. to a back injury nine games into the season. They have spent the past month hoping either might return before the playoffs begin, only for the status of both to remain up in the air as the first round nears.
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic singlehandedly kept them afloat, logging a historic season. He averaged 27.1 points (58/34/81 shooting splits), 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.4 combined blocks and steals in just 33.5 minutes per game. He leads the league in win shares and value over replacement player. His player efficiency rating and box plus/minus are both the highest marks ever in Basketball Reference's database.
Denver has gotten contributions from Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, Jeff Green, rookie Bones Hyland and trade acquisition Bryn Forbes, but they go as Jokic goes, and he is going better than anybody.
Head to head
The Nuggets won the season series between the two teams, 3-1.
Green did not play a single one of those games against Jokic, who was a monster opposite Kevon Looney and the Warriors' shallow front line, averaging a 28-16-9. Thompson also missed two of those losses, and none of Golden State's three future Hall of Famers appeared in their 131-124 loss to Denver on March 7.
The Nuggets still required a game-saving block by Jokic and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Morris to secure two of those wins against a Warriors team at less than full strength. On one hand, the matchup is closer than it appears on paper, and on the other, the Warriors should have a firepower advantage if healthy.
Golden State Warriors
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is still trying to recreate his death lineup. He has played 12 different players more than 20 minutes in clutch situations this season. You can bet Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins will all be in Golden State's closing lineup if healthy. The fifth spot is up for grabs. Looney gives the Warriors more size. Porter or Andre Iguodala gives them more versatility. And Poole gives them another playmaking threat.
Likewise, Nuggets coach Michael Malone has vacillated between Austin Rivers, Green and Hyland with mainstays Jokic, Barton, Morris and Gordon at the end of games. Malone has most often trusted playoff-tested veteran Green, who with the core four has outscored opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions.
Matchup to watch
Size-wise, the 6-foot-9 Looney is the best defensive option the Warriors have against Jokic. Skill-wise, it is 6-6 Draymond Green. Jokic is 50 pounds heavier than each of them. The bully is waiting at their lockers.
Only Steven Adams defended Jokic more than Looney this season. In 33 minutes matched up opposite Looney, Jokic registered 61 points (23-41 FG) and 20 assists, according to the NBA's tracking data. Green got the assignment last year for a total of 12 minutes, and Jokic put 31 points (14-23 FG) and five assists.
Curry owns a similar advantage in Golden State's backcourt, especially if Murray remains unavailable, but the Warriors can still win if their two-time MVP is not electric. Jokic has to be dominant for Denver to win.
BetMGM series odds
Golden State Warriors (-225)
Denver Nuggets (+180)
Warriors in six. (Nuggets in seven if Curry is not healthy.)
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach