Portland Trailblazers (14-20) at San Antonio Spurs (26-6)
Dec. 30, 2016 | 7:30pm CST
Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI
The 2015-16 NBA season was bizarre for many reasons, and perhaps none are more notable than the Portland Trailblazers. After losing four of their five starters in the offseason, the Blazers were projected to freefall into a top lottery pick. About one year ago, this very much appeared to be the case, following a 128-108 blowout home loss to the Warriors that brought Dame and Friends to a galling 15-24 record.
Then something weird happened. As if by some Christmas miracle, the Blazers could not miss from the field. Not for a game, or even a week, but for two whole months. Their scorching shooting helped them reach a 17-4 record from mid-January to March, including a marquee drubbing of the Warriors. This hot stretch propelled them five seeds up in the standings and put them in position to contend for home court advantage in the first round.
Perhaps that hot stretch set unrealistic expectations for this season; the Blazers have plunged back into mediocrity and currently maintain the 10th spot in the Western Conference. While their record does put them in an eerily similar position to last year, there is good reason to think that their weaknesses are now too often exploited to repeat last season's magical run.
Their struggles can largely be attributed to their porous defense that currently holds the worst defensive rating in the NBA. Some of the blame for this can be placed on injuries, as their best wing defender, Al-Farouq Aminu, has missed significant time with back problems and their best defensive big, Festus Ezeli, could require season-ending knee surgery. Of course even if these two stalwarts were playing, it wouldn't hide the fact that their dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum may be the worst defensive backcourt in the NBA.
And yet, this pair is nearly able to make up for their defensive flaws on the other end of the floor. You always have to be wary with these two; at any moment, a Lillard or McCollum jumper can spark a three-point barrage that keys a game-changing run. To get out of their current 2-9 rut, the Blazers will need this pair to do just that while limiting their defensive hemorrhaging. If they can't, expect a similar result to their last game against the Spurs.
Matchup to watch: Damian Lillard vs. Danny Green. The Spurs limited Dame to 16 points on 7-19 from the field in their matchup last week. The ankle injury he sustained against the Spurs has kept him out the last two games, so who knows how much he'll be able to play tonight (if at all). Lillard has torched San Antonio in the past, so - if he's healthy - I'd be surprised if we see him struggle to score again.
Vegas line: Spurs by 12
Game prediction: Spurs by 15.
For the Blazers fans' perspective, visit Blazer's Edge.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher.
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