Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Denver at Golden State (-6.5, 236), 10:35 ET, ESPN

The Warriors are being doubted again.

We’ll see if they actually care considering it is still the regular season, but squaring off against the team that remains their top competition for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference should bring out the best in them. Golden State opens the night one game up on the Nuggets for the best record in the West and all the spoils that come with that, so we’ll see whether it has the goods to buckle down and take a two-game lead on the team closest to them in the standings.

By now, they’ve heard all the noise. Kevin Durant, who must decide whether to continue with the Warriors as they move to San Francisco or leave for another destination, has shot 5-for-24 from 3-point range over the last three games. The 18 points he scored in Tuesday’s blowout loss to Boston was his fourth-lowest scoring output of the season and lowest-scoring performance in a loss.

He’ll have redemption in mind. DeMarcus Cousins’ defensive shortcomings have been another reason the Warriors have struggled, so his matchup with All-Star Nikola Jokic will be one all eyes will be fixated upon.

Klay Thompson is returning from a two-game absence from knee soreness, so missing one of their five All-Star starters won’t be an excuse. While there are a lot of people tripping over themselves to pick someone else to come out of the West or anoint an East contender the favorite, there’s also a great chance Golden State is simply bored. The regular season still has over a month remaining and a team that has bent over backwards to get Cousins acclimated and ensure he’s in playing shape still has the best record in the league’s most loaded conference.

To write off the Warriors as some sort of washed-up group that Is suddenly vulnerable is the stupidest thing I’ve seen this year. Mind you, we’re only in March, but I have a feeling that I’ll continue feeling this way come December whether Durant is playing in New York alongside Kyrie Irving or with the Warriors as the face of the franchise as the team moves to San Francisco. Golden State remains the heavy betting favorite to win the NBA title later this month and should continue in that role the rest of the way despite all the nonsense currently being spouted by people who should know better.

No, Golden State hasn’t been sharp of late. Yes, they’re still the team that viewed the Nuggets as a viable threat on Jan. 15 and decided to send a message their way by posting a 142-111 rout in Denver. They ensured Nikola Jokic couldn’t feel comfortable by operating at 100 miles per hour and utilizing pace to ensure the Nuggets couldn’t slow the game and get comfortable in the halfcourt.

There’s no question that the Warriors are in better position to pull off an upset this time around, so it will be even more telling if Golden State is able to prove once again that it has bigger fish to fry. For anyone looking to take the points with the Nuggets tonight, the desire to prove that point has to be the motivation. With Will Barton and Paul Millsap back and playing at high level, Isaiah Thomas slowly playing his way into shape with the second unit and a team that legitimately goes 10-deep taking aim at some revenge, there is reason to think they’ll be able to rebound.

There’s also reason to think that the Warriors are simply a bad matchup for the Nuggets and should be avoided at all costs. We’ll see how the presence of Cousins affect things since he’ll be a larger part of the equation here, but Golden State utilized its team speed to blitz Denver in the most recent meeting between the teams and could employ the same approach.

Golden State is 1-9 ATS over its last 10 games and is averaging just 105.4 points on Friday games, which may be another reason you may want to fade the defending champs. They’re last in the NBA with a 25-38-1 against the spread and are just 6-13 ATS after a loss and 11-20-1 ATS at Oracle.

The Nuggets are just 13-18 ATS on the road and haven’t been great outside of Denver, so be wary of that as they face a Golden State that tops the NBA in scoring with 118.2 points per game. With Thompson, Shaun Livingston and Kevon Looney all available, it’s clear the Warriors are looking to send a message in this one. The Nugs are relatively healthy too, missing only power forward Trey Lyles.

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