It's the home stretch of the season and I know my timing couldn't be worse for us to have another in our series of epic exchanges what with this being Portland's worst stretch of the season. But we've missed doing them for each of the previous meetings of our teams this year and ... ok, I'll admit it: you were available and it was all my fault. There, I said it.
I swear I didn't purposefully wait until the Spurs got healthy to start a conversation with you. After I failed to get my stuff together before the last time the Spurs visited Portland (the first game LaMarcus Aldridge missed with his groin injury) I promised myself that I'd make it happen for the final meeting of the regular season. It's not my fault the Blazers visit to San Antonio coincides with the Spurs winning nine of their last ten games while the rest of the league's top teams have simultaneously swooned.
But if anything can get your crew going again, I feel certain that it'll be meeting up with the Spurs. Portland has won 14 of the last 20 meetings between the clubs, and I feel sure it'd have been 15 if LMA hadn't been injured. He always seems to -- scratch that -- he always goes off against the Spurs, and we think we've finally figured out why. He's one of the league's best at taking what Pop's defense usually likes to give.
Only against guys with excellent mid-range games, they don't want to give those shots away. Which is just too bad because neither San Antonio's scheme nor their personnel are conducive to stopping, say, Aldridge pumping in 40 points on turnaround jumpers and spot-up shots in the creases of the otherwise stout Spurs D.
So tell me, do you see the Blazers getting well in San Antonio? And if not, what is it that's going on with them?
All season the Blazers have been close to the Spurs in the standings, right up there near the top of the conference, playing well against San Antonio to boot. And I've said, "Hey, J.R., let's talk! Let's Fraternize! What do you say?" And you've been, "Naw...I've gotta dye my eyebrows. I have to get my pet mongoose neutered. I'm real busy trying to get that staff writer position on the Honey Boo-Boo show."
Now the Blazers lose two heartbreaking games to Dallas and Houston, they're drifting towards the middle-bottom of the playoff bracket, and you're all, "Hey baby, what u doin'? You up?"
The Portland Trail Blazers are not your booty call, J.R. Wilco! If you like it then you better put a ring on it! Lord knows you have enough of them.
Wait, what's our record lately? Lost 3 of our last 4? OK, fine. We'll be your booty call. But just this once! Don't you get used to it! We are totally respectable! It's just, you know, everybody needs some comfort now and then.
So, you're over-statistifying LaMarcus Aldridge's success against your team. (And yes, I know I made that up. Hush! You called me.) Aldridge doesn't just have success against the Spurs because he likes shots that the Spurs give up. He has success against the Spurs because his ability to shoot the "J" or spin to the hoop makes Tim Duncan look old, Matt Bonner look like Matt Bonner, and the Spurs don't even dare to put Tiago Splitter on him because Aldridge would break a land speed record dribbling around Splitter twice every time he went to the rack. Aldridge's marksmanship sets up his mobility. His mobility sets up his marksmanship. Most teams have a defender who can take away some of each but against San Antonio Aldridge will just go with whichever one his guy isn't capable of dealing with. Consider it revenge for all those lessons Timmy taught him when Aldridge was new in the league.
But here's the problem: the effects of Aldridge's groin injury are lingering. He can play but he's much more ground-bound and looks half a step slower. That still puts him a quarter-step ahead of the Spurs but that's not near enough. Unless he can get some kind of electrical stimulation massage groin therapy between now and Wednesday the Blazers may be in trouble. Not that they can't get good games from other players. But LMA roughing up the Spurs is such a tradition now, I'm not sure Portland will know how to survive without it. We'll see. If the hobbled, slumping Blazers do win this game it might be time to admit that we've got your number.
But enough about Portland. What kind of Voodoo magic is allowing the Spurs to win at a 90% rate? Why won't you guys just roll over and admit you're too old to do this anymore? How does this team manage it?
In my defense: my natural eyebrow color makes children cry, my pet mongoose had impregnated half of our subdivision, and the Honey Boo-Boo show ... well, let's just say that they don't pay as much as their ad implied, and leave it at that.
As for a booty call -- you know I never think of you like that. It's only the Trail Blazers for me when I want to Fraternize. You are the epitome of respectable. No one else will do. You're so pretty. You just got to believe me, baby ... um, Dave. Wait. This is getting kind of weird. And you said something about electric groin massage that made me uncomfortable. Let's talk about LMA.
I'm over-statistifying, am I? Well let's see. Over the past three seasons against the Spurs, Aldridge is averaging 25 points on better than 55% shooting. That's his average. I think that means he has larger games than that sometimes. And I seem to remember a 40 point night sometime around 2010. So I see your made-up word and I raise you my unrealistic expectations as a defense mechanism so that when he drops anything less than twoscore on San Antonio, I can feel like we got off easy.
But you have your own defense mechanisms going on if you're staring at a 70% win percentage against the Spurs over the past 5+ years and you're still not ready to admit that the Blazers have San Antonio's number. And if you make it 15 for 21 then it might be time? I guess I'm not the only one with commitment issues. (A ring on it, indeed.)
Why the Spurs won't just roll over and admit they're too old? Maybe because they're not. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are certainly on the wrong side of 36, but everybody else in the rotation is either within a year of 30 (Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter) or they're actually, you know, young:
Marco Belinelli, 27
Danny Green, 26
Patty Mills, 25
Kawhi Leonard, 22
I used to have a standard answer for the "How are the Spurs still doing it?" question, but this year is a little bit different. Sure, they're still running Pop's system that allows the team to plug in second-level talent whenever someone gets injured so that the team doesn't skip a beat. Of course there's that offense everyone on the team is schooled on to the point where it looks like all five guys are being controlled by a single mind. And, yes, their offense and defense are both in the top 10 (7 and 4, respectively) but there have been some changes this season.
Gary Neal was replaced by Belinelli, who has been nothing short of a revelation in San Antonio. For his entire career, he's been asked to carry a bigger offensive burden than he was capable of, but San Antonio already has the Big Three plus Kawhi (no one is really comfortable calling them the Big Four just yet). So Marco's thrived in the long-distance sharpshooter, sometime playmaker, Manu-In-Training role.
Patty Mills, whom I'm sure your readers remember from his cameo in Rip City, underwent a physical transformation over the summer and came back trimmed down, faster than ever and just as dangerous from downtown. He won the backup point guard spot this preseason which means that for the first time since Tony Parker was a backup point guard, the Spurs have a legit backup point guard -- and that's only a slight exaggeration. Patty essentially carried the second unit while Manu and Tony were out, and his three-balls kept San Antonio in many a game during that injury-ridden stretch from January through the end of February.
Then there's Boris Diaw. No, he didn't slim down too, nothing like it. But over the summer he played with Tony as France won Eurobasket, and he came back a changed man. Where he used to look to pass first, second and always, now he actually looks for his shot. Those plays that used to see him standing unguarded at the top of the key while he watched five guys guarding four while he wondered who he could set up, they don't happen anymore. He just puts it up as soon as the ball swings to him. And his post-up game, it's like he's a portly, little version of Hakeem Olajuwon. I know it sounds funny, but it's not an exaggeration. We even have a name for it when he goes into Hakeem-mode: The Cream Shake. It may not be the height of wit, but it's plenty descriptive for just how effective he's been. And he still passes as well as he ever did.
All of this has taken a team that was either one free throw, or one rebound, or one block out away from beating the Heat in six -- and it's made it even better. Before the injury bug decided to take a bite out of San Antonio, the Spurs were on pace for a franchise-record in wins. Not the norm for older teams that lose in the Finals.
Anyway, take me through your season so far, if you would. Harken back to the happier days of December and January and tell me what Portland needs to do to recapture the magic they were conjuring while they held the West's best record.
continued on Blazer's Edge