Ah, the Rodeo Road trip. A time for the San Antonio Spurs to finally gel and match (or even exceed) the success of their last road trip in which they found victory against some of the best teams of the Eastern conference. Or alternatively, to get licked by both of the teams from LA and limp out of California in hopes of avoiding a three game losing streak by defeating a player coming off of a historic hot streak.
If you guessed the second option, you guessed right. After falling just short of the Clippers with the help of a late shot-clock violation, the Spurs subsequently took an absolute beating from a Lakers team that they had played close in their last two match-ups. But LeBron James is still LeBron for now, so here we are, hoping for an off night from a player who is averaging 39 points per game since January 29th, 34 points per game since January 1st, and has knocked down 66(!) threes this season from at least 28 feet out. (over five feet from beyond the NBA’s three-point line for those keeping score at home)
Thankfully, basketball is a five man sport, so Lillard’s all but assured detonation may not be enough if his teammates can’t give him enough help. That was the case against the Jazz as Portland lost by 17 points in a game in which Lillard went for 51 on his own. This is the blueprint that San Antonio will have to follow in order to get the win against a Portland team that has been playing better in the wake of Carmelo Anthony’s addition and their point guard’s recent raising of the bar.
Fortunately the Spurs have three talented and athletic young guards who may be able to stifle Lillard’s long time runnning mate, CJ McCollum while potentially doing a better job containing Dame than the Lakers’ roughshod guard rotation was able to do. If that’s the case, and the Spurs are able to exploit their advantage in the post, this will very likely end up a win. But if even one of Portland’s secondary threats have a hot night, it’ll likely come down to the final minutes as it has in both of their match-ups so far.
San Antonio Spurs (22-28) at Portland Trail Blazers (23-27)
February 6, 2020 | 9:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Trail Blazers Injuries: Rodney Hood (Out - Achilles), Skal Labissiere (Out - Knee), Zach Collins (Out - Shoulder), Jusuf Nurkic (Out - Lower Leg), Nassir Little (Out - Ankle)
What to watch for:
- Three Point Variance: After a late-December/early-January hot streak, the Spurs have been struggling from three in the past several games. Which would be one thing if it were happening on only one side of the court. But San Antonio’s usage of the zone to make up for other deficiencies has led to a lot of open real estate, and unfortunately teams have been able to convert on those looks. If the Spurs can get back to knocking down their open looks, and force Portland into missing some of theirs in return, San Antonio’s top ten offense should be able to pull away from the opposition. If not, well, you might want to avert your eyes early.
- Rudy Gay vs. Carmelo Anthony: There was time that this would have been a more obvious match-up, but between Anthony’s year long absence and Gay’s rehabbed Achilles, this is more of a throwback in regards to nostalgia than next-level athleticism and offensive fireworks. Melo isn’t quite Melo anymore, but he can still get into a dangerous rhythm if allowed, so Rudy will have to keep on him all game to prevent that from happening. If Rudy can keep this to a draw or better, San Antonio’s chance of winning will go up accordingly, but if he lets up at all, it might not be CJ McCollum that the Spurs will have to worry about.
- Winning The Front-court Battle: This is as direct as it sounds. If Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge can keep Portland from running wild in the paint and off of the glass, it’ll be easier to guard the perimeter, and San Antonio won’t have to break out their recently exploited zone defense. Considering the injuries that have led to the lack of depth in Portland’s front-court, this should be a clear advantage for San Antonio. All they have to do is not let Hassan Whiteside beat them. (Big Yikes)
For the Trail Blazers’ fans’ perspective, visit Blazer’s Edge.
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.