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Fraternizing with the Enemy: Dave & JRW on Spurs @ Blazers Redux

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After the near-epic exchange I had with Dave leading up to the last Blazers/Spurs tilt, the two of us weren't about to miss an opportunity to face off again. In case you don't know, Dave manages Blazersedge, and wields a mean array of metaphors. Without further ado, let's get to it. (Go and join their side of the conversation, but be sure to play well with others.)



Well, well, well...before we even get started let me bust this out from the last time our two teams met: Score...board! Score...board! Score...board! I mean for that one game, of course. Not, like, for the season. Advanced statisticians have determined that overall record is a pretty poor indicator of a team's actual success level anyway. If it were that simple, how would they have jobs? Instead you have to measure Adjusted Frippernomics Rating and Super-Duper Overall Efficiency and stuff like that. And according to my measurements, the Blazers have it over the Spurs in just about all those critical, esoteric areas. So if the two teams meet in the playoffs, the pocket-protector brigade says, "BEWARE!" Those with less advanced minds like me just say, "Score...board!" and gloat a little.

Either way, if LaMarcus Aldridge busts out a 40 on y'all again the Blazers just might get to strut off the floor in this coming game too. Who have you got guarding him with Duncan out? Antonio "Octogenarian" McDyess? DeJuan "Almost 6'7" Blair? Some guy named Tiago? Isn't that some kind of European cologne or something?

"What is that smell? Lavender and vanilla?"
"'s Tiago."

LaMarcus still isn't ultra-aggressive every night, but it's a Texas team, he's at home, and there's no opposing front line. You have to believe he'll be salivating.


No ... It's Lamar


Well, your guys definitely won the last time, so I see nothing stopping you from gloating all you want. Actually, that's not quite true. I seem to remember that I was the one who was was calling for Aldridge to break out, and you were the one who was playing it oh-so-cool. Doesn't ring a bell? Let's go to the court stenographer; Miss Moneypenny?

- Yes, Mr. Wilco.

Can you read us the references in question?

- Certainly Mr Wilco. You said, "players like Aldridge seem to be San Antonio's kryptonite. Seriously, I don't think he's had a bad game against the Spurs. Ever."

And what was Dave's reply?

- He said, "San Antonio gets the fiendish plan to, you know, score points. 'DRAT!' say the Blazers, 'That's the one thing we're not good at!' " And later, "there's pretty much zero reason to predict the Blazers will beat any really good team at this point."

Thank you, Miss Moneypenny, that will be all. And I hope the next reboot of the Bond franchise reintroduces your character so that you can go back to your old job.


You're welcome, James -- I mean, Jolly

I guess it's time for me to rest my case, and you'll have a hard time successfully defending yourself against the charges at hand. Namely, of being the guy who went from overly humble before the game, to SupernovaFan after the game; with four counts of Scoreboard pointing and one count of AFR (Adjusted Frippernomics Rating) referencing. I wonder what the jury will decide.

As to the question of who will guard LaMarcus this time around, I'm wondering if it really matters a bit. Duncan played the last game and you saw what happened. L.A. drops Four-Oh on 70% shooting - do you really think he could do BETTER? In fact, it's entirely possible that after making all of those shots with Spurs' defenders in his face last month, Pop will decide to reveal the shoot-all-the-wide-open-jumpers-you-want defense just to mix things up. Maybe he'll miss a couple shots during a coughing fit caused by matchup-induced excess drool. Either way, I can't see that a switch from the Big Fun to Mr. Cologne would entice Aldridge to have an even better night than last time. What's he gonna do, drop sixty?


LOL...darn internet persistent world! Guilty as charged. The Blazers needed me to play possum in order to grab that last win against you guys. Now they have at least a chance of winning on their own. That's because for at least a brief while they're in a better spot than they have been all season. They are at their peak. It remains to be seen whether they can sustain it. They might need to go higher even. For the first time all season Portland fans are excited about the prospects of that happening.

And no, Aldridge probably won't score 60 but he won't need to because of his new wingmen: Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum. Wallace has brought some veteran play, amazing defense, and a really aggressive kick-your-butt attitude to the lineup that prim and proper Portland has been missing for years. It's like you're watching the front door for Aldridge and then Wallace comes swinging like Tarzan through your window and busts up everything in the room. Batum you'll recognize from before but somehow the addition of Wallace has caused him to up his game. He's more aggressive now on offense. He's always been a sterling defender but he's been slicing to the hoop and finishing like sweet cream lately. He's also been dead-eye accurate with the three. If he can muster a game like his last couple Tony Parker may end up being the second best Frenchman on the court. Of course Batum's been doing this for maybe two weeks while Parker's been doing it for, what? At least two marriages now, right? So TP's crown is safe for now.


Watch the door, AND bolt the window.

But Portland fans have reason to be excited about the way the Blazers have been playing. There couldn't be a better set up for the nasty stretch schedule the Blazers face on their run to the playoffs. Portland has proved it against sub-par teams with occasional great showings against the best guys. But now it's time to put up or shut up, starting with this game. Realistically anything could happen. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Blazers put on a clinic. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Blazers wilt. They're still not all that experienced together. But something is going to happen. For a team that was looking at nothing but injuries three months ago, something is enough.

But enough about Portland's frontcourt. How are the Spurs guards doing nowadays? They're really the key now that Duncan moves like a glacier wrapped in molasses. You happy with the backcourt? Worried? Portland's guards tend to be less consistent than their big guys so this could be a crack in the armor for the Blazers.


So it's to be the ol' Possum Defense, is it? Well, I suppose that's as good a tactic as any. And you're probably sure to get off even without invoking the M'Naghten Rule, since a jury of your peers would certainly be stacked with sports bloggers who are all quite familiar in being hoist with their own petard. And your team certainly appears to be cresting Everest right about now, so it's likely that, even if you were found guilty, the context of your crime would be taken into account during sentencing and you'd receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist plus court costs.

Which brings us to Aldridge's running mates that you mentioned: Gromit and BaTuminator. Or perhaps I should follow your lead and leave Gerald as Tarzan with Nicolas for Cheeta? If their forte is refenestration followed by havoc wreaking, then they're a bit late for the job. Duncan's already been sidelined, the Nuggets came back from a 14-point deficit to beat San Antonio Wednesday night, and there are another 4 straight games on the schedule against playoff teams; what dishes are left to pull off the mantle and fling about?


Is Wallace Wallace, or is Wallace Gromit?

As for the Spurs' guards, they've done more than hold their own recently. Parker took a few games off after a calf bruise sent him to the IR, but he returned ahead of schedule and has been playing like his old self, except for the addition of a dangerous corner-pocket three pointer which he's been making with some regularity. Manu seems to have regained his own three point stroke after a couple of months of truly horrible outside shooting. And then there's Gary Neal who just refuses to play like anything resembling a rookie. Just when the league had him neatly categorized as a long-range gunner, he reveals a floor game that includes driving the lane for layups or floaters, running the pick and roll for assists or his own shot, and playing hard-nosed positional defense. I'd love to say I expected him to do any of this, but the truth is, nine months ago I didn't even know his name.

So even without Tim, the offense really is supplied, as it has all season long, by the shorter and quicker fellows who like to fire it up from all over. The issue really is the defense, which as Zach Lowe pointed out, is nearly as good as Boston's and Chicago's when #21 is playing, but barely league average when he sits. It's obvious to those who know the team well, that Pop is pacing the big guy so that he can take on more minutes in the playoffs, but in the meanwhile, there are still these games to get through while his ankle heals. And with the way the Blazers are currently playing (firmly ensconced in the playoff hunt, and nipping at Denver's heels in a race to avoid the Lakers or the Mavs in the first round) I expect Friday night to be quite a challenge for the silver and black. You had such a vivid picture to paint before the last game, as to how you thought the game would go, I can't wait to hear what you feel like prognosticating for this one. Please don't tell me that you're going to pass on the opportunity.


Well, not entirely possum. As I recall the Blazers were playing erratically, tending towards bad, when they last faced the Spurs. There was little reason to pick them to win. But surely you know the old blogger's trick? When you turn "little chance" into "no chance" the team will turn around and win the game just to make you look bad. Then they can say, "Why are you listening to this guy who writes in the basement dressed only in underwear and Mountain Dew stains?" Meanwhile you get to write about a win instead of moaning about a loss. Ta da! Everybody is happy.


Don't worry, these boxers are NOT stained

Sadly we can't go that way this time. The Spurs have two legitimate problems coming up. You already mentioned frontcourt defense, now absolutely essential versus the Blazers. Even with Duncan in it's problematic, as Portland's younger forwards make their Spurs counterparts look slow. Without TD I'm struggling to figure out how San Antonio stops any of the Portland semi-bigs. As long as the Blazers don't get stupid and hoist jumpers all night they should have an advantage. Second, San Antonio's offense is now guard-heavy. The Blazers pack Batum and Wesley Matthews for just such occasions. Ginobili and Parker will no doubt score but they will have to work hard for it.

Here's the caveat though. If the Spurs can get any inside pressure at all on offense their three-point shooting might give the Blazers fits. Portland can swarm inside or close out at the arc but seldom both. For all of the decent defenders the Blazers allow incredibly high shooting percentages. Most nights they make up for that with hustle and high quality shots. But if the Spurs work just as hard and shoot just as well there's still a chance the Blazers will devolve into one-on-one panic offense. At that point San Antonio has an advantage. The way to get to the Blazers is to rattle them and the Spurs are more than capable of that.

My guess is that the teams split the two upcoming games either way. If Portland loses at home they'll probably be motivated enough to get the revenge win in San Antonio. If the Blazers take this game (as probably should be expected at this point) they might not come out with the same fire in the next one. The script says 1-1. We'll have to see if either team has enough chutzpah to break it.


Chutzpah: hilarious fun, if it leads to 2-0


I see that you subscribe to the blogger-calls-game-and-affects-the-outcome-of-said-game theory. I'm probably in the minority, but I am not a proponent of this as yet unproven phenomenon, which likely puts me in the distinct minority as far as fans in general, and the SBNation population specifically. And while I don't want to start a firestorm over this, it's not a bad time for me to come clean about it.

While I don't want to give the impression that even in my most fannish moments, I'm convinced that nothing anyone can do has any measurable effect on the events that transpire on the court, I am certain that nothing I can write before the game will do a single thing to help or hurt the Spurs' chances. I've kept a spreadsheet with all of my pre-game comments, predictions, and ill-considered statements since the early nineties, and there is simply no correlation between anything I write or say before the game, and the outcome of any of my favorite team's contests. Now, once the game begins, it's a different matter and both the unwritten and written rules of PtR reflect my concern about avoiding any number of transgressions, including a restriction on claiming that the game has been won while it's still in doubt (otherwise known as the AteOhSicksPhive Restriction). So I'm not going to argue that fans should feel useless because their support is meaningless - far from it. It's just that I believe that my constant drive to keep lists and monitor things has exonerated me where my pre- and post-game writings are concerned.

Getting back to the game at hand, if the Wednesday night affair against Denver is any indication, Manu and Tony working hard for points is simply going to be the way of things until Duncan returns. However, your caveat gives me hope. There were open three-pointers aplenty last night, as there have been for the Spurs nearly all season long when the offense is being run well and the ball movement has been fluid. So if there's a single silver lining to the cloud of Duncan's absence, it'll have to be inducing the one-on-one panic offense your referred to. How about this, the big brother from February is now the one clutching at straws in March. Right now, I'd actually be quite pleased to split the two games against Portland, while leaving the door open for suddenly expecting both wins if S.A. takes the first - just as a fan would.

Do you really think that chutzpah is what'll be the deciding factor in turning 1-1 into 2-0 or 0-2? If both teams were at full strength, I could see that, but as it is - I'm not so sure. The regular season is so long that pacing is simply the way the league is, so the team who needs the win most often gets it. But will that be the case with these games? What do you think?


I can see, sir, that you have not been raised a Blazers fan. Forget bloggers affecting the outcome of the game...we Portland fans know that every single time the team blows it, it's a personal indictment of all of us. We caused the Game 7 collapse against the Lakers in 2000. We caused Greg Oden to go from the can't-miss center of our generation to the can't-suit-up medical basket case. If we hadn't done something wrong, why not Jordan instead of Bowie? Why do the basketball gods so despise us that they would slant every single referee against us?

Now I have revealed to you the guilt we Portland fans endure like Sisyphus endured his stone. But sometimes, every once in a great while, we are able to affect the game to the positive by eating the right dinner before the game or scratching our derrières at exactly the right time during pre-game warm-ups. So to answer your question, it might not be chutzpah that decides this game. It may come down to whether I select the right t-shirt to wear that day.


Caution: Sisyphus Xing

And yeah, I feel like 1-1 is the right call. I think Portland on a roll should be favored against San Antonio sans Duncan. The matchups are fantastic for the Blazers. But San Antonio is really good. You don't need me to tell you that. San Antonio has championship experience. San Antonio is not going to want the Blazers to think anyone has anybody else's number in this relationship. The Blazers, on the other hand, do not handle success well yet. They love to win but they don't expect to win. Witness the fantastic victory against Miami a couple weeks ago followed by back-to-back losses to the Bobcats and Hawks. If the Blazers win the first game I see them letting San Antonio bust through the door in the second, lacking the determination (chutzpah) I mentioned. If the Blazers lose the first game their dander will be up and they usually win in those situations. I think if any team goes 2-0 in this situation it will be Portland but unless Pops rests everybody in his starting lineup for that second game the Blazers will need a great game in San Antonio to take it.

Simply put, the Spurs average is going to be higher than the Blazers average at this point. But San Antonio isn't likely to move above their average while the Blazers can quite possibly play above theirs in one or both games. If the Blazers don't make that move they will lose but if the Blazers go all-out they could win both. The silver lining for Portland here is that, at least in the absence of Duncan, the outcome of these games should be determined by Portland's level of play. They're not often in that position against the Spurs and I hope they take advantage...if nothing else because it'll be good training for how they'll have to rise against any potential playoff opponent.


Now I'm completely fascinated. This glimpse into the mind of Blazer Nation is for me, something like what Marco Polo must have felt when he stood in the court of Kublai Khan at Dadu. After beating myself up to think of something to ask you at the end of my sections, I now find I have the exact opposite problem now: I have so many questions that I don't know if you'll have time to answer them all.


Marco Polo saw the wonders of the East. Can Portland compare?

First, the Game 7 collapse in 2000, while I can never know the depths of your loss, I died a little myself that day. But how did the collective pro-Portland "We" cause that? Or does no one know? Is it a corporate guilt that hangs over all Blazer supporters like the dark cloud that came from Mordor before the siege of Minis Tirith? But if it is, then how can it simultaneously be personally indicting, like a hundred thousand individual versions of the sword of Damocles: suspended, poised, and waiting to drop while every moment is spent in dread of the inevitable plunge? It's mysterious, this control that you have over your favorite team's fortunes. But it's not the kind of control you want, is it? So is it even control, or is it more of a cosmic tug-of-war that plays out like some passive-aggressive co-dependent relationship?

And when you effect a positive change, how do you know whether your apparel choice was correct or not? Is it something that can only be known after the fact, or is there a special frisson that only the initiated can experience, but that clues you in? Same with the buttock chafing: let's say that you're watching the game as it approaches tip-off, and the undeniable prickling of an itch begins to irritate your glutes. As you reach down to administer the scrape that will alleviate the tickling, how is it revealed to you that you've just helped the Blazers win? Certainly the universe gives you some sort of sign.

This is where I'd usually bring it back to the game at hand, but with another contest between our two teams on Monday, I think I'll leave it at that, and look forward to your explanation of this enigma called Blazer fandom.


Yeah, I'm not surprised this is new to you. You're a Spurs fan. You win a championship every odd-numbered year like clockwork. What's there to worry about? Portland, meanwhile, is stuck in the zone south of great but north of pathetic. If the Blazers constantly sucked everyone would just deal and accept it. If the Blazers won titles nobody would have a care. Instead Portland comes so close to great moments and for some weird reason never gets least not after the Walton-Lucas championship of '77. When you're close but get the rug pulled out from under you (hello, Greg Oden) you can't handle not having an explanation. It's scary being at the whim of a universe beyond your control.

Some fans bail out with the standard, "It's the coach!" But most of us know it goes deeper than that. We have sinned...somehow. We don't know how. All we wanted to do was love our franchise. Our eyes open wide at the advent of each new season. We bleed with every game. In exchange we get soaring moments of glory followed by pain. Pain of watching the Lakers end up on top. Pain of watching center after center go down in what should be a defining era of our franchise. Pain of seeing young Brandon Roy dazzle the league and then come up with some lack of a certain type of knee jelly, a condition that leaves him unable to jump over a Pee Chee. (For you youngins out there, Pee Chees were yellow folders people used to carry their schoolwork in before they made the iPad2. And for the record, Brandon can't jump over one of those anymore either.) The idea that these events are random--that we're at the mercy of unknown forces that might never let us hold a trophy again--is too horrifying to contemplate. So we know it's our fault. There's probably some guy in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Portland who accidentally creased a Jack Ramsay trading card in the back of his sock drawer and we're all paying for it. When the guy finally notices and makes it right all will be well with the world. Until then each and every Blazers fan is stuck petitioning the heavens, as if gathered around the Last Supper table saying, "Is it me? Is it me?" No reply.


Is this the talisman that could end all the suffering?

Someday, though, all will be made right. Someday Greg Oden will emerge healthy to play alongside Aldridge and Wallace and Roy and Batum and Matthews and maybe Rudy Fernandez and maybe Marcus Camby and this team will dominate like it should. We have faith. What else is there to turn to?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go check the back of my sock drawer. I hope the game turns out entertaining. Good luck to all of the Spurs fans out there. Your franchise has the distinction of being the only Western team to win championships that Portland fans don't outright hate. We hope you lose tonight, of course, but if the Blazers can't win it the Spurs aren't a bad second option.