Western Conference powers collide tonight when the San Antonio Spurs host the Portland Trailblazers for the second game of a four-game home-stand that ends with a contest against Oklahoma City on Wednesday. San Antonio is on a five-game winning-streak and lead the Western Conference with 31 wins coming into the second game against a Portland team that is surprisingly in second place in the Western Conference in front of teams like OKC and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The NBA's ridiculously lop-sided season
It's been an awfully lop-sided NBA season. Does that make it an awful season? Where does it stand historically, and how does it affect the Spurs' chances this year?
After starting the season on a hot-streak any gambler in Las Vegas would trade their own mother for, the Trailblazers have hit a lull in their success since around Christmas, actually losing four-out-of-five games as the last year ended and this year started, but Portland has righted the ship with three-straight wins heading into the showdown with a Spurs team it beat 115-105 in the third game of the season.
In that game, LaMarcus Aldridge matched Tim Duncan with 24 points, while Nicolas Batum recorded a triple-double (thanks to a meaningless three-pointer at the buzzer) and Damian Lillard and Wesley Mathews lit it up from the perimeter, each making three three-point baskets in the Portland victory.
The recipe for success that Portland used in the first game will be much the same as it will be tonight. Unlike most teams that go from playoff hopeful to conference contender, Portland already has a great feel for itself on the basketball court. Many up-start teams are uncomfortable in its own skin, causing issues down the stretch and inconsistency. Portland has had some ups-and-downs of late, but it is due to the drag of winter-time basketball plus a let-down on the defensive end. But make no mistake, Portland is a real contender with scary talent and a distribution of skills across multiple positions. The puzzle fits very well in Portland.
Portland leads the league in scoring with 109.1 points a game. The Trailblazers are second in rebounds per game and third in assists. The efficiency and fluidity of its offensive style is impressive. Damian Lillard and Aldridge have possibily become the league's best and most polished young inside/out duo. Each average over 20 points and each have over a 20 PER, the only two on the team that can boast either. Wesley Matthews has become a steady third scoring option from the off-guard position and Batum is a guy that will do anything to help his team win. Add Robin Lopez controlling the middle and a healthy C.J. McCollum off of the bench and you have the looks of a team building towards something special.
The issue? Defense. Portland gives up the 26th most points per game in the league and it is the lone thing that can hold this team back from placing itself in the echelon of Western Conference powers with the likes of San Antonio. On a good night, there is no question that Portland is one of the best teams in the NBA and one capable of beating any team on the schedule. However, the defensive inconsistencies will need to be fixed for Portland to be a legitimate contender in a series instead of just in the regular season.
Key matchup to watch: With Danny Green out for around a month with an injury to his hand, the Spurs are forced to start Manu Ginobili, leaving a void on the second unit. We could see Portland have an advantage off of the bench with a healthy McCollum. The starting units will be very similar in talent levels, so the team that wins the bench may win the game.
Portland perspective can be found at Blazer's Edge.
Game Prediction: Spurs by 3.
Opening Line in Vegas: Spurs by 6
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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