After the narrow (yet thrilling) loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night, I think it’s safe to predict that the San Antonio Spurs will be over-matched once again in a contest against a Portland Trail Blazers team that’s playing their best basketball of the year. Make no mistake, these Blazers are an absolute juggernaut right now, and even a close loss would be a huge win for the Spurs against Damian Lillard and company.
The truth is that I’m running out of ways to express what a runaway victory this should be for the Silver and Black. Whatever team the Trail Blazers could have been this season has all but vanished in a sea of injuries, trades, and all around incompetence.
With the controversial hire of Chauncey Billups having done little (if anything) to improve on the long-time middling position of Portland’s roster, and Damien Lillard suffering a lost season, the Blazer’s front office has finally punted their way into a confusing rebuild that saw them ship out players for pennies on the dollar (including Lillard’s long-time running mate C.J. McCollum) as they fully dedicated themselves to the tank.
Desperate not to win any games that might affect their current draft position, the Trail Blazers will have as many as ten players out for this contest via a combination of legitimate and semi-legitimate injuries.
Their leading scorer over the last couple of games? That would be former Spur Drew Eubanks, currently playing on his third ten-day hardship contract, and averaging seventeen points and nine rebound per game over the last ten contests, on what is easily a career high 31.5 minutes per-game. Which might be nice story for the former 3-string big man if it didn’t come attached with a negative +/- in every one of those games.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are surging (relative to this season’s standards), tallying their longest win streak of the year (which would still be going if not for a unforgiving rim-roll against the Grizzlies) at the time they’ve needed it the most.
One of those wins came against this very incarnation of this Portland team a little over a week ago, as the Spurs rained down an unholy fire from the heavens to the tune of a franchise record-tying 22 converted three-pointers and 81 first-half points.
Even with their struggles against undermanned teams this season, I think it would be safe to bet on another shellacking in favor of San Antonio, in what is bound to be a bit of a dull affair. Well, dull for those of us who don’t enjoy the prospect of a completely one-sided game. It’d be a great game to grab tickets for if you’re looking for a guaranteed win though, because this is about as close to a guarantee as you’re likely to see.
And due to a scheduling quirk, you can see it two games in a row if you want!
Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs
April 1, 2022 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Doug McDermott - Out (Ankle), Romeo Langford - Questionable (Hamstring)
Trail Blazers Injuries: Damian Lillard - Out (Abdomen), Eric Bledsoe - Out (Achilles), Josh Hart - Out (Knee), Anfernee Simmons - Out (Quad), Jusuf Nurkic - Out (Foot), Didi Louzada - Out (Knee), Trendon Watford - Out (Knee), Joe Ingles - Out (Knee), Nasir Little - Out (Shoulder), Justice Winslow - Questionable (Calf)
What to watch for:
Improved Execution: Improvement is always relative for a team with a losing record, but the Spurs have really seemed to begin putting it together a little more often since the passing of the trade deadline. Rotations have been a little bit crisper, Josh Primo is settling down a bit more as his playing time has increased, and Josh Richardson has brought an extra bit of hustle and attitude to the starting unit. And while it’s easy to excel against a shell of a team like the Trail Blazers, that same improved execution was on display against a smoking hot Memphis team, culminating in a just-missed comeback run. It’s not enough to pull the Spurs into a significantly better position at this point, but it hints at the sort of execution we might see more regularly next season.
Front-court Auditions: With three first round picks all but assured at this point, it seems increasingly likely that the Spurs will be looking to draft at least one player at the four and/or five, and this is likely to leave at least one San Antonio’s current bigs without a home. It’s my sneaking suspicion that this is why Gregg Popovich has suddenly begun to increase Jock Landale’s minutes, in an effort to discern who to keep. With Landale, Collins, and Cacock all looking easy enough to cut (from a financial perspective), it’ll be interesting to see who shows out in this final stretch of the season.
For the Trail Blazers’ fans’ perspective, visit Blazers Edge.
PtR’s Game thread 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.