After a decisive victory against a flailing Phoenix Suns Friday night, the Spurs leave the comfort of the AT&T Center where they have won 13 straight and are 18-2 overall and take their act on the road for 3 games. First stop: Portland, where the 20-18 Trail Blazers are coming off a blowout win against the depleted Atlanta Hawks.
San Antonio Spurs (27-13) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (20-18)
January 7, 2017 | 8:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW & NBATV | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (heel), Danny Green (groin), Tony Parker (injury management)*, Kawhi Leonard (shoulder strain)*
(Parker’s and Leonard’s announcements came after this was already written.)
Blazers injuries: CJ Wilcox (knee)
Right where we left them
These teams last met on December 20 when the Spurs were coming off a win and heading into a 3-game road trip. The Portland Trail Blazers record was 16-14, separated by 2 games. The Spurs are taking an almost identical road trip and need the same as last time - to play better on the road. Meanwhile, the Blazers are still 2 games above .500 and looking to move up in the standings. Should we expect the same game as last time?
Although Terry Stotts and Co. have moved down a couple of places in the standings, they are still in striking zone as the playoff picture is too close to call. One thing remains, Damian Lillard is still lethal, averaging 24.9 ppg, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists along with CJ McCollum who is contributing 21.2/4.2/3.2. The key to a win in Portland remains containing their back court. The Spurs did well in December by limiting Portland’s dynamic duo to a combined 30 points. For this game, they need to add Shabazz Napier to this list.
During the last encounter, Napier scored 14 points coming off the bench and gave the Rip City fans a boost each time he stepped out. He had two big 3s which shifted momentum and got the crowd invested. Recently, Napier averaged 18 ppg in the five games Lillard sat out with a right calf strain. He’s making the most of his opportunity and needs to be kept in check.
In December, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol combined for 42 points and 25 rebounds compared to Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu’s 23 and 12. Both Blazers are physical and capable of a standout night, so keeping LMA and Pau at that elite level is essential to a Spurs’ victory.
Other than Napier, the Trail Blazers have struggled to find contributions off the bench. If the Spurs starters can limit Portland, the bench can maintain and add to a lead further pushing the issue of Portland’s stars having to step up. The key for San Antonio is controlling the pace. By no means should Damian Lillard be allowed to set the tone for the game.
The Spurs play Portland tonight and the Sacramento Kings the next night, so as to who actually suits up tonight...well, your guess is as good as mine. I would assume the Spurs would come in full against Portland and rest the usual suspects (Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili) in Sacramento. That said, Kawhi’s “three days rest between games over 500 miles after the midnight of a waning moon” has flummoxed my decoder ring to the point of being surprised when Kawhi plays at all. At the very least, the increased minutes for Leonard continue to point in the direction of full recovery making the days he does suit up revealing of what is to come with the winter thaw.
A shout to Bryn Forbes
Being the only Spur with a contract deadline this week, Bryn Forbes does not look like a man ready to go gentle into that good night. For one, he has led the team in minutes played over the last two games, starting in the place of Danny Green on 9 occasions this season. His offense has come together— Forbes is lethal from the arc, but when chased down, he’s adept at moving quickly and creating his shot. His floater is an excellent addition to his expanding bag of tricks. Defensively, he took on Devin Booker who threatened to go off early in the match. As a result. Booker was kept in check and scored just below his season average.
Forbes missed two technical free throws the other night and was visibly upset. At the next break, both Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili pulled up next to him and offered a moment of support. This is the second time the veterans have reached out immediately to reassure Forbes. Just goes to show he is being bolstered by the best, an essential part of his journey in the NBA. With Pop in Forbes’ corner, it is likely we will see the Spartan’s contract extended through the end of the season.
Last meeting: Spurs won by 2.
Vegas odds: Spurs by 3.5.
Game prediction: Spurs by 6.
For the Trail Blazers fan’s perspective, visit Blazer’s Edge.
As always, Tony must dominate Fisher.
PtR’s GameThread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.