On Thursday night, the Santa Cruz Warriors will hit their home-court hardwood, poised to compete in the NBA D-League Finals for the second time in as many years.
And though they lost to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in The Finals last season, the momentum is undoubtedly in Santa Cruz's favor, having just defeated RGV in their semi-finals matchup in the series prior.
Despite that, however, the team still faces tough competition with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants ahead. Such an opponent boasts a talented roster from A to Z, but perhaps most imposing to the Warriors are big men Tim Ohlbrecht and Will Frisby.
Though Santa Cruz's front-line had been an immediate strength for the team much throughout the season, it's no shock that D-League rosters stand to change at the drop of a hat, even in the postseason.
And with that in mind, the number six seeded team in the D-League playoffs has voids to fill as they hope other players can continue to step up now, when it matters most. With an injury to Andrew Bogut, the NBA-affiliated Golden State team has needed an injection of life to their own respective front-line. In addition to calling up Hilton Armstrong recently, there's a good chance the NBA playoff contender also holds onto frequent D-League assignee Ognjen Kuzmić as well.
In the absence of one (and perhaps maybe two) of Santa Cruz's key players from this past season, who stands to step up in the meantime?
Brooklyn's own Lance Goulbourne is certainly a likely candidate to do so, as evidenced by his most recent clutch play throughout the playoffs. This postseason, the forward is averaging 13.5 points and 13.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 blocks.
On a team that features top notch prospects like Seth Curry, Cameron Jones, and the increasingly clutch Mychel Thompson, one would expect Santa Cruz to have enough firepower to take on just about any team in the league.
But Goulbourne adds another dimension to the Warriors' versatile attack. He's one of the most talented in the players in the league, and though he stands at just 6'8" and 230 pounds, the forward knows how to assert himself and use his physicality quite well.
After spending all of last season with Santa Cruz, Goulburne paired up with minor league teammate Cameron Jones to help lead Golden State to a championship win at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last summer. Fresh off that impressive showing, the 25 year old cashed in on his most recent successful efforts, good for a lucrative contract in South Korea.
Having spent much of this past campaign abroad, Goulburne returned to his NBA D-League stomping grounds midseason, and clearly, has been paying dividends for Santa Cruz in most recent weeks.
Thus, it comes as a no surprise that the Vanderbilt alum could prove to be the X-Factor to a potential Santa Cruz Warriors' title win.