San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail BlazersRose Garden, Portland, OR
November 2, 2013, 9:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The San Antonio Spurs continue their early-season march up the west coast with a Saturday night SEGABABA against the Portland Trail Blazers. Led by a pair of potent scorers, the Blazers are a tricky matchup for any team in the league. While not likely to make a deep playoff run this year, dynamic scoring guard Damian Lillard has Portland fans believing that they can soon make the jump out of the purgatory of the NBA's middle-of-the-pack teams.
Last season Lillard became the league's fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year selection, joining Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson as the only first-year players in NBA history to record 1,500 points and 500 assists. There isn't a ton of flash to his game which, like the old dude who dominates your local rec league, relies more on tempo than pure speed to be effective and get to the bucket. He's also a threat from behind the arc, having broken Steph Curry's record of three-pointers made by a rookie with 185 last season.
San Antonio's stifling team defense will ensure that covering the Blazers superstar won't just be on Tony Parker. It'll take a team effort to close out on Lillard when he's behind the arc, and to collapse on him when he is sneaking into the lane. His play-making ability is also something to account for, as he averaged 6.5 assists as a rookie.
Any team that's playing the Blazers will look to slow down Lillard first, but containing All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge will also be a priority. With Tim Duncan expected to miss his second game in a row after bruising his chest in the season-opener, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter will have to guard the star big man. After entering the league in 2006, the former Longhorn has steadily become one of the best and most consistent power forwards in the league, even if he's not the bruising defensive specialist some would like him to be.
Aldridge was ninth in the league in scoring (21.1 points a game) last year, also posting career-high averages 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He won't ever be a low-post presence that will wreak havoc on the offensive glass, but he did lead the NBA with 16 games of at least 25 and 10. In total he recorded 38 double-doubles, and is off to a fast start again this season, after scoring 28 points in Portland's season opener.
The issues for Portland -- and the advantage for the Spurs -- are who else can step up and score besides the talented inside-out duo of Lillard and Aldridge. Small forward Nicolas Batum is lengthy and talented, but is still not a natural scorer and struggles to create his own shot. Injured rookie C.J. McCollum will eventually be counted on offensively, but in the meantime the team may struggle to put points on the board, especially when Lillard and Aldridge are off the floor. In Portland's season-opening loss to Phoenix, the two combined for 60 of the team's 91 points.
The other issues for the Blazers are defense and rebounding. Aldridge puts up stats but, with his wiry frame, he's no banger; Robin Lopez's parents may have named him aptly, as he's always played the boy wonder, to Brook Lopez's Batman; Thomas Robinson is undersized; and Joel Freeland is Joel Freeland -- that's about all Portland can throw into the paint, and none of those players exactly strike fear into the opposing defense. On the perimeter, Wesley Matthews is capable of holding his own, but only Nicolas Batum is known as an elite defender, and he's such an offensive liability at times that his presence on the floor can be viewed as a wash at best.
With McCollum out and Earl Watson questionable, Mo Williams is the lone bench player that can provide any scoring spark for Portland. Compare that to the Spurs and the advantage easily leans towards San Antonio when the second group is on the court -- even counting Diaw as a starter with Duncan's status up in the air.
Portland being on the end of their own back-to-back will also be an advantage for San Antonio, but the Spurs should be careful not to sleep-walk into this one. A young team desperate for an early-season victory is always a tough matchup, and after last night's game in L.A. going down to the wire, this has all the makings of trap game.
Matchup to watch: Damian Lillard is going to get his, so it's up to the frontcourt players of San Antonio to make LaMarcus Aldridge work for his offense. Facing only two true threats on the floor, San Antonio can tailor a defense around slowing down the combination of Lillard and Aldridge, but at some point, Splitter or Diaw will need to get Aldridge out of a rhythm so he doesn't drop another 30-point game. That is one of Portland's only chances to pull off a home victory.
The Blazers perspective can be found here: Blazers Edge
Game Prediction: Prediction: Spurs by 10
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.