One enormous point to remember as the NBA playoffs get underway: Though the Warriors are the clear underdogs for many solid reasons, they also have the best, most dangerous player on either roster in this fascinating first-round matchup vs. Denver.

That would be Stephen Curry, and when's the last time the Warriors went into any playoff series knowing that their player was the single most important force -- to either unleash or contain -- in a playoff round?

Maybe since Rick Barry in the mid-1970s? (The Mullin-Hardaway-etc. teams were very talented, but they kept running into Barkley-Payton-David Robinson-Magic-Kareem-KJ in their short playoff campaigns.)

Let me repeat, this is no way alters the fact that the 6th-seeded Warriors will have a giant task ahead of them vs. No. 3 Denver, not the least being Denver's NBA-best 38-3 home record and the significance of this series starting with two games in the Mile High city.

To get any kind of footing, the Warriors will have to find a way to steal one of the first two games -- the way they stole Game 1 in Dallas in 2007 to start their epic six-game toppling -- and the Nuggets have proved that they know how to defend their home court with a vengeance.

The Nuggets are deep, they are athletic, they can run away from anybody ... and they also finished this season on a ridiculous 23-3 run over the last two months, enduring major injuries and the potential for a lull.


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By the way, in the same time span, the Warriors went 15-13.

But the Warriors have a slightly better than blind squirrel's chance at this mainly because they have Curry, who broke the NBA single-season record for 3-pointers Wednesday night and who, if the defense cannot get multiple bodies on him throughout the game, can put up 40 to 50 to 54 in a blink.

So, as with most series involving solid teams, this breakdown starts with the best player, and the logical question: Can Denver keep Curry from dominating games with his shooting?

The answer: Yes, the Nuggets probably can because they've already shown they can do a decent job vs. Curry in the regular-season series, which Denver won 3-1.

Interestingly, while Curry shot a blistering 66.7 percent from 3-point distance in the four games vs. Denver, he only averaged 18.8 points ... and that's because he only made 25.6 percent from inside the arc.

That shows how well Denver coach George Karl's scheme limited Curry -- Denver has a lot of long-armed mid-sized players, and Karl likes to employ an aggressive switching defense.

So if Ty Lawson starts on Curry and gets screened, the Nuggets don't panic, they just switch Wilson Chandler on Curry or Andre Iguodala or Kenneth Faried or Corey Brewer or whoever needs to jump out to stop the easy shot. That's a lot of guys to do that.

The Nuggets have given up some Curry deep looks, but they haven't let him get incendiary from all over the floor -- once he dribbles, they're all over him.

What's the Warriors' counter to this? Well, it's simple to say that Curry has to hit some contested shots -- easy to say, not easy to do, especially on the road in the thin air.

He's the best player, he's going to have to take it upon himself, maybe a little recklessly, and maybe shoot the Warriors in or out of a tight game. He did that at Davidson a few times, didn't he?

Meanwhile, Klay Thompson got some pretty regular open looks vs. Denver (sometimes he didn't think so well through those moments early in the season, of course), and David Lee had one monster performance in the one Warriors' victory over Denver.

So ... Curry has to keep shooting, draw Chandler, Brewer and the others, stay strong on the dribble, and then Thompson, Lee and the others have to make some pressure shots ... then see if Jarrett Jack can create down the stretch ... and that's just to keep the Warriors competitive in the two Denver games.

It's who the Warriors are. It's how they have to play this.

On the other side, Curry has a tough defensive matchup against the very quick Lawson, who is back from a plantar fascia tear in his right heel and has apparently played OK down the stretch. That might mean putting Thompson on Lawson for stretches, and maybe Curry on Chandler or Iguodala, and THAT could get very troublesome.

Anyway, against the good teams, the Warriors' chances always ride with Curry's shooting, and as an add on, to Thompson's shooting too.

The Warrior were the No. 1 3-point percentage shooting team at 40.3 percent ... and Denver is a little bit vulnerable there — again, probably because of Karl's system -- because Nuggets opponents made the second-most 3-pointers in the league (8 per).

If the Warriors are going to threaten Denver and take this series deep, they're going to have to make 3-pointers. That is not breaking news. But if Denver has a crack in its defensive process, it's giving up the three at a pretty decent rate.

Some of the other matchups and notable statistical points ...

  • Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who played 17 minutes Wednesday after missing some time with a tweaked ankle, didn't play in any of the games against Denver.

    I'm not sure his presence is a game-changer against Denver, since the Nuggets don't really pound the ball inside -- unless JaVale McGee is in a shooting mood, and I think opponents usually love it when McGee is in a shooting mood.

    But if Bogut can give the Warriors 25 minutes a game in the playoffs -- with guaranteed days off in-between games -- he can bother Lawson and Andre Miller's penetration and cut down on some of Denver's big statistical edges on the Warriors.

    Mostly, Bogut can tamp down the Warriors' extreme tendency to grab players as they race to the rim. Because he can play straight up large-man D, while most of the other Warriors cannot or do not.

  • What was the biggest edge? Not surprisingly, Denver whomped the Warriors at the free-throw line.

    Denver had more free-throw tries than the Warriors in each of the four games and it's just about the only way the Nuggets beat the Warriors in the last one, on Jan. 13, when the Warriors made 13 3-pointers and shot 51.8 percent.

    In that game, Denver had a 27-8 free-throw advantage. Overall, the Nuggets had an average of 27 free throw attempts in the season series. The Warriors shot an average of 15.5.

    If the Nuggets have that kind of free-throw edge in the first few games, the Warriors' odds of winning this series drop to almost zero.

  • I think the Warriors' win-the-series odds start at probably 30 percent, by the way.

    It's better than I would've set for a matchup against San Antonio, just because the Warriors have proved it's almost impossible for them to win in San Antonio.

    And it's much worse than I would've given the Warriors if they'd lucked into a Clippers series.

    Denver is not a good matchup, but it's better than it could've been. The Nuggets don't have a center or power forward that the Warriors must double-team down low, and the loss of Danilo Gallinari does change things.

  • There will be points: Denver averaged 106.1 points per game, most in the league; the Warriors averaged 101.2, which was seventh.

  • I repeat: Denver was 38-3 at home this season. The Nuggets' only losses were to Miami, Minnesota and Washington.

    Which means the Nuggets swept all their home games vs. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis and everybody else.

  • The Warriors were 18-22 on the road this season, not bad at all, but also not a sign that they're ready to go get Denver in Games 1 and 2.

    Denver was 19-22 on the road -- so if the Warriors can pick off one of the first two, they're going to be in a pretty strong position in this series. (The Warriors were 28-13 at home.)

  • The power-forward matchup is another one to watch: Faried vs. David Lee are almost polar-opposite players and both had separate huge games vs. each other this season.

  • Denver lost Gallinari to a knee injury recently, and that means the Nuggets are less able to hit teams from long distance.

    Two things: Gallinari didn't dominate the Warriors in the series, but hit some important shots.

    And: Denver is 4-1 since losing him to a knee injury, so it's not like everything depended on him.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.