San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail BlazersModa Center, Portland, OR
February 19, 2014, 9:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
San Antonio started the unofficial second half of the season last night with a road win against the Clippers. It doesn't get any easier tonight as the Spurs travel to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers in the second night of a back-to-back. While the Spurs literally limped into the All-Star break with injuries, the Trail Blazers figuratively limped into the break. Portland started the season stronger than any team in the NBA, but has been around a .500 team for the better part of this calendar year.
Tonight's game against the Spurs will be the first for Portland since falling to the Clippers in the game before the All-Star break. The Trail Blazers were 4-6 in their last 10 games heading into the break, and while it isn't an old team that needs to get healthy, Portland could've certainly used the mental break from the grind of the Western Conference. This is relatively new territory for Portland and how the squad handles the pressure of being a "contender" in the West is about as important as how it plays down the stretch.
Rehash: Spurs shred Clips
No Parker? No Leonard? No Splitter? A rusty Ginobili? Oh whatever shall these poor, undermanned, unathletic Spurs do against the mighty high-flying Clippers.
Throughout the season, most have figured that San Antonio, OKC and Portland were locked into the top-3 seeds in the Western Conference Playoffs. The recent Portland slump combined with surges from Dallas, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers now have Portland sitting in fifth place and on the outside looking in on home-court advantage in the first round.
The Trail Blazers can still put the basketball in the hoop. Portland leads the league in points per game, scoring 107.9 a night, while also ranking first in overall rebounding and fourth in assists. Damian Lillard won the Rookie of the Year last season and competed in all five All-Star weekend events, so his star is on the rise, but it is still power forward LaMarcus Aldridge's team to run. Aldridge has been excellent this season and was selected as an All-Star, as well. He leads Portland with 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds a game to go along with a 22.4 PER.
Aldridge came into the league as a big man that many people didn't expect to become a force on the inside. He settled for jump shots way too much early in his career and he also wasn't physical enough on the offensive or defensive glass. The former University of Texas standout is never going to be confused with a banger, but he has developed enough of a low-post game to go along with an understanding of positional rebounding that has turned him into a consistent double-double guy in a league becoming void of those types of players.
The emergence of Lillard as one of the better perimeter players in the league is what can take Portland over the top if this team can build some consistency in big moments. He and Wesley Matthews combine for a backcourt that can score 40 points a night on a given basis. The choice for opposing teams is to leave one of those players to help on Aldridge or to see if Aldridge can win consistently. The Trail Blazers have passed those tests for much of the year, but teams are starting to clamp down in the fourth quarter of games and Portland is still trying to figure out what it does best in those clutch situations.
Portland has plenty of weapons for role players, as well. Nicolas Batum does a little bit of everything. Mo Williams can score in bunches when he is healthy. C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson have all been improving.
The root of Portland's problems lately has been its defense. Robin Lopez is a capable center, but he is not a rim protector in the way that a DeAndre Jordan or Roy Hibbert is for their teams. Combine that with Aldridge's lack of defensive prowess and a young backcourt and the Blazers rank near or at the bottom of the league in almost every important statistical category. It isn't a perfect comparison because the two teams accomplish scoring the ball in drastically different ways, but Portland is starting to remind some of the Clippers before Doc Rivers – a team that can score with anyone in this league, but maybe one not yet built for postseason success.
Matchup to watch: Aldridge and Lillard are going to score points. Lillard has been a guy that has torched San Antonio so far in his career, but for me, taking Wesley Matthews out of the equation will be the key for the Spurs. If Danny Green is outplayed by Matthews, San Antonio's defense will have a hard time keeping Portland close enough to 100 points to win.
Blazers perspective can be found here: Blazer's Edge
Game Prediction: Blazers by 5.
Line in Vegas: Blazers by 2.
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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