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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers

The West coasts wing of the Rodeo Road Trip rolls on, with the Spurs looking to win a SEGABABA in Portland against Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This is a pretty big game for the Spurs in terms of playoff positioning. In a conference where every win must be earned and every loss could cost you a shot at the playoffs, it’s important to handle your business. The Spurs will have a chance to grab a 2-1 season series edge over the Blazers if they can survive the onslaught of Portland’s backcourt, the debut of Rodney Hood, and get out of Portland with win at the Moda Center.

San Antonio Spurs (33-23) @ Portland Trail Blazers (32-21)

February 7, 2019| 9:30 PM CT

Watch: TNT | Listen: WOAI

Spurs injuries: Dejounte Murray (knee — out), Derrick White (heel — out)

Trail Blazers injuries: None

Hello, DeMar DeRozan!

DeMar had his best game in about a month during the Spurs’ 127-112 loss to the Sacramento Kings, with 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists on 10-15 shooting. As PtR’s CharlieOCharles described in his write-up, DeRozan got many of the same looks he’s been getting most of the season, he just made a few more. Sometimes, a slump really just comes down to a player being in their own head and finding their way through it (a bothersome sore knee likely didn’t help his game either).

With their defense a sieve on the perimeter without the injured-Derrick White, the Spurs will really need Monday’s version of DeMar to show up and put the ball in the hole with confidence and consistency while also minimizing his turnovers like he did during that game. He should be able to score on his match-up at the 2 in CJ McCollum, so let’s hope his night off last night will ensure that he’s aggressive early and often.

Made shots will help out transition defense.

The Spurs ended their loss to the Kings shooting just 43% from the field as opposed to 56% for the Kings. Sacramento managed to score 35 of their 127 points in transition, even though the Spurs kept the turnovers at a minimum for the most part (just 8).

How could this be?

Making shots and forcing the other team to take the ball out of their own net allows your defense to get back and get set. A set defense is much harder to score against for any team than one that is completely lost because the other is running misses up the court like they are turnovers. Portland has a top 15-defense (Def. Rtg 110.0, 13th) on the year, and though they rank just 18th in pace, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lillard and McCollum try to push the pace even more against a defensively-challenged Spurs team.

It’ll be important for the Spurs to make Portland take the ball out of their own hoop as much as possible, much like they did in their win back in early December:

(NOTE: They PROBABLY won’t shoot the way they did back in December, though!)

Without Derrick White, pray that Lillard is off, unless . . .

Damian Lillard is one of the elite shot-makers in the NBA. Having another stellar season with his usual 25 or so points to go along with 4-5 rebounds and about 6 assists a game on very good percentages, Lillard gets shots up often, especially from 3 where he is averaging about 8 a game on 37% shooting. Pop has been sticking Derrick White on the other team’s most explosive perimeter threat, but with White missing the early part of this year’s Rodeo Road Trip with plantar fasciitis, there may not be much the Spurs can do but pray Lillard has an off night. Bryn Forbes, while not the most offensive player on that end of the floor, and Patty Mills will almost certainly have their hands full trying to guard Lillard’s array of pull-up jumpers and forays to the basket. There is, though, one thing Pop COULD try . . .

Throw Lonnie to the flames

While it’s doubtful he will get much burn, Pop will at least have the option of throwing rookie Lonnie Walker IV at Lillard and Portland. With length not just on his head and athleticism oozing out of him, Walker could see some time guarding Lillard in spot minutes off the bench. Unless Marco Belinelli is shooting the lights out, his impression on the game is much more minimal because he has no shot at guarding most competent back court players. Walker, who has looked like he has belonged in previous minutes, has shown to be a solid 3-point shooter (38% in the G-League) and a slasher

Walker has talked in the past about how important it is to him to come in and play great defense and most young players earn their minutes in San Antonio by being willing defenders. Unless Belinelli has it going on, I would consider giving Walker a look.

Vegas Line: Blazers by 5

Game Prediction: Spurs by 4

For the Trail Blazer’s viewpoint, please visit Blazer’s Edge.