The San Antonio Spurs routed the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night as Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassel, Tre Jones, and Josh Primo combined to fill in for Dejounte Murray. Though the good guys have beat the wheels off their fellow Western Conference competitor twice over the last two weeks, they will have to prove they can do it again on Sunday.
The Silver and Black now look to finish their three-game homestand with a convincing victory as their play-in tournament spot hangs in the balance in the final days of the regular season. And while yours truly is usually too far away or busy writing to enjoy these contests like an average fan, make sure to keep an eye out for me cheering in the stands at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio Spurs (32-45) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (27-50)
April 3, 2022 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
DraftKings Odds: Spurs -14.5, O/U 230
Spurs Injuries: Doug McDermott (Out — Ankle), Robert Woodard II (Out — Two Way), D.J. Stewart (Out — Two Way), Dejounte Murray (Questionable — Illness), Josh Primo (Probable — Hamstring)
Blazers Injuries: Nassir Little (Out — Shoulder), Joe Ingles (Out — Knee), Damian Lillard (Out — Abdomen), Anfernee Simons (Out — Knee), Jusuf Nurkic (Out — Foot), Josh Hart (Out — Knee), Eric Bledsoe (Out — Achilles), Justise Winslow (Out — Calf), Trendon Watford (Game Time Decision — Leg)
What To Watch For
- What do Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, Joe Ingles, and Eric Bledsoe share in common? Portland has shut them down for the rest of the season. Josh Hart and Justice Winslow will also be out of commission on Sunday, and there should be zero doubts as to whether or not they have phoned it in for the rest of their schedule. That octet has averaged a combined 103.8 points per game, which is a nearly impossible amount of production to replicate. Head coach Chauncey Billups has tried using a variety of second-stringers, benchwarmers, and ten-day contract signees to fill the gaps. But this roster doesn’t have the talent to compete with almost any decent team. Opponents have outscored the Trail Blazers by 20.1 points per game since February 24. Why don’t we put that number into perspective? The 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats, widely accepted as one of the worst clubs in league history, only owned a -13.9 average net rating in the 2011-2012 season.
- Dejounte Murray missed out on the previous Portland contest because of an upper respiratory illness, but San Antonio should be in no hurry to rush their All-Star point guard back onto the court if he isn’t 100%. Though his absence would usually spell trouble for the Spurs, the rest of the starting lineup and reserves should have enough composure and chemistry to put the Blazers away with no drama. Refining on-ball skills is one of the most crucial parts of developing the young core. Getting Keldon Johnson, Josh Primo, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, and Lonnie Walker IV bunches of primary reps could someday go a long way for their self-creation and playmaking. Sunday is the perfect low-stakes matchup for them to build confidence, so why not put the basketball in their hands and watch them go to work? The Silver and Black have run a heliocentric offense around Dejounte for most of the season, but perhaps they can take a load off his shoulders if a few of these guys start blossoming as go-to scorers or passers.
- The Spurs once again surpassed Los Angeles to take over the tenth seed in the Western Conference standings a couple of nights ago, and they are now a full game ahead of their longtime antagonist in the play-in race. Are the Lakers likely to catch up to San Antonio anytime soon? With the third-toughest remaining strength of schedule in the league and a fifth straight loss on Friday night, the Purple and Gold are well-positioned to go out in flames as their aging ensemble of past-their-prime veterans wheezes to the finish line. Although head coach Gregg Popovich and company have been the benefactors of a light slate down the homestretch of the regular season, this young squad deserves credit for taking care of business with their postseason fate on the line. This tilt with the Trail Blazers is possibly the last advantageous game before ending the year against the Nuggets, Wolves, Warriors, and Mavericks. Defeating one more beatable opponent should give San Antonio adequate cushioning over the Purple and Gold, regardless of how everything else shakes out.