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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers

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LaMarcus Aldridge returns to the Pacific Northwest as the Spurs look to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers and go undefeated in their short west coast road trip.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio SpursPortland Trail Blazers

Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
November 11, 2015, 9:30 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: FSSW / ESPN: 1200 AM WOAI

On December 19, 2014, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Spurs in a triple-overtime thriller. Before the game, the Blazers already looked like one of the league's best teams, with an impressive 20-6 record. I was skeptical they could sustain that performance for the long haul, but witnessing Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge dominating that third overtime was the kick in the behind that I needed to hop on board the Blazer train - it seemed obvious that Portland was headed for a deep playoff run.

Things didn't turn out quite so rosy for them over the next four and a half months. From that game forward, the Blazers closed out the season (including playoffs) with a mediocre 31-29 record. Aldridge and Nicolas Batum were physically worn down and limited by injuries and Wes Matthews had to sit out the final two months of the season with a torn Achilles. In their final 49 games, Portland had a 22-27 record.

The Trail Blazers enter the Moda Center tonight with a roster very different than the one envisioned by their fans last summer. Four-fifths of the starting lineup from last season is gone, replaced by talented but inexperienced youngsters. The starters, while they may be overburdened,  have performed admirably with a positive net rating (+0.2 points per 100 possessions) blazing the trail to a solid 4-4 record, including blowout victories over the Pelicans, Jazz (in Utah), and Grizzlies.

Credit for the Blazer's hot start could be awarded to many people, but you have to start with improved play from their core players - Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. After hitting a pedestrian 34% from behind the three-point line last season, Lillard has returned to his career averages by hitting threes at a 43% clip this season. His improved long-range shooting - along with an overall improvement in his efficiency - has propelled this seemingly offensively-challenged team to the 5th best offensive rating in the league.

And then there's McCollum. This kid can play. Before the season started, there were a billion articles written about McCollum's likelihood to breakout. Even with all these projections for greatness, I don't think anyone expected what they've seen so far. He kicked off the first quarter of this season with a 22-point outburst:

With Aldridge, Matthews, and Batum gone, McCollum has carte blanche to fire at will. He has launched almost 18 shots a game, with an efficient 46% from the field and an even more impressive 42% from deep. Those numbers might not be sustainable with so many attempts, but he's played within himself, so perhaps a significant drop-off isn't pre-ordained.

As much as I love oohing and aahing at Lillard hitting pull-up threes, witnessing the transformation of McCollum, and rooting with that PDX crowd, I can't help but think that the Blazers' torrid start will end sooner than later, for three reasons:

  1. Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee are not NBA-quality starters;
  2. nothing from Al-Farouq Aminu's past career indicates that his long-range shooting to start the season is sustainable; and
  3. their bench only runs 3-4 players deep.

Matchups to watch: The Blazers may not be the most talented team in the league - or even in the top half talent-wise - but there are several intriguing matchups in tonight's game. Will Lillard have another monster game against Parker? How will the defensive stalwarts (Danny Green, Al-Farouq Aminu) contain the blossoming stars (C.J. McCollum, Kawhi Leonard)? But most importantly, what sort of reception with LaMarcus receive in his Portland homecoming?

Tonight marks the first return of LaMarcus Aldridge to the Rose City in what should be a thrilling game with an energized crowd. This is going to be a far more passionate crowd and Blazer team than one would expect on a Wednesday in early November.

@

San Antonio Spurs (5-2)

Portland Trail Blazers (4-4)

November 11, 2015

Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

9:30 PM CST

TV: FSSW/ESPN

Starters

Tony Parker

PG

Damian Lillard

Danny Green

SG

CJ McCollum

Kawhi Leonard

SF

Al-Farouq Aminu

LaMarcus Aldridge

PF

Meyers Leonard

Tim Duncan

C

Mason Plumlee

Game prediction: Spurs by 3.

For the Blazer's perspective, visit Blazer's Edge.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.