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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers

It’s a tankathon in the first of two games in Austin

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

There have been few games this season when San Antonio had an on-paper advantage over their opponent. In their 115-94 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the shorthanded roster had to face off against 3 superstars. In the Spurs first of two games in Austin, they may actually be the more talented team.

Since shutting down their superstar Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers have been on a rapid descent towards the bottom of the NBA standings, and the top of the NBA Draft lottery odds. Portland is 2-8 in their last 10 games, and have the 5th best odds at the number one pick in the draft.

Meanwhile, San Antonio has been giving their younger, unproven players a chance to show they can stick around in the NBA. The results have been mixed, but players like Sandro Mamukelashvili, Dominick Barlow and Julian Champagnie have shown the aspects of their games that make them intriguing prospects. They will once again be tapped for larger roles as the Spurs injury report grows longer.

San Antonio is 0-3 against the Blazers on the year, with their most recent loss coming on January 23rd, when they were defeated 147-127. You can throw most of the previous matchup stats out of the window, because the players in this game will be so different. With the Spurs trying to surpass the Rockets for the second worst record, and the Blazers trying to stay at the fifth worst record, this game will be an ole fashioned tank off.

San Antonio Spurs (20-59) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (33-46)

April 6, 2023 | 7 p.m. CT

Watch: CW 35 | Listen: WOAI/KXTN

Spurs injuries: Khem Birch – Out (knee), Charles Bassey – Out (knee), Zach Collins – Probable (finger), Devonte Graham – Out (adductor) Keldon Johnson – Questionable (foot), Romeo Langford – Questionable (abductor), Doug McDermott – Out (ankle), Jeremy Sochan – Out (knee), Devin Vassell – Out (knee)

Trail Blazers injuries: Ibou Badjii – Out (knee), Drew Eubanks – Probable (thoracic), Jerami Grant – Out (quad), Keon Johnson – Out (finger), Kevin Knox II – Probable (knee), Damian Lillard – Out (calf), Nassir Little – Out (ankle), Jusuf Nurkic – Out (knee), Cam Reddish – Questionable (lumbar), Shaedon Sharpe – Questionable (knee), Anfernee Simons – Out (foot), Matisse Thybulle – Doubtful (knee), Trendon Watford – Questionable (ankle), Justise Winslow – Out (ankle)

What to watch for

Dominick Barlow’s Defense

If anyone has made the most of their new opportunities, it’s Dominick Barlow. He put up his first career double-double against the Kings, and has been rock solid on defense in his expanded role. In the matchup against the Blazers, he has a chance to be one of the best big men on the floor.

The Blazers big man rotation with all of their injuries features Drew Eubanks, and John Butler Jr. San Antonio fans will be familiar with Eubanks game. The former Spurs big man is averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds per contest. Barlow will have a real chance to dominate this matchup, in what should be a game where he can showcase his skill.

It will be even more interesting to see the rookie get out and guard some of the Blazers bigger wings. Barlow has shown the ability to switch onto perimeter players and hold his own with quick feet and good instincts. He had a nice block on Kevin Durant in the contest against Phoenix on Tuesday. It’s a small sample, but in April he is +25 in his two games, and posting a defensive rating of 115. With the Blazers playing a lot of quicker wings right now, he will once again get a chance to show the staff his defensive versatility.

Tre Jones controlling the offense

Since the Spurs have decided to host tryouts for the end of the season, Jones has stood out above the rest as a piece of their core going forward. In his last two games, Jones is averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s taken control of an offense that doesn’t have a clear primary playmaker. He’s been particularly solid in the pick and roll, where the Spurs have found some success getting to the rim, and used it to cut apart the Kings in their win on Sunday.

The Blazers guard rotation has consisted of NBA journeymen Shaquille Harrison and Skylar Mays since they started their tank late in the season. Jones has a clear advantage in this matchup, and should be set to continue his streak of good play. In his last contest against the Suns, Jones knocked in a couple of three pointers, and looks to be shooting from deep with a bit more confidence. The Blazers are second-to-last in the league in three point percentage allowed, so perhaps Jones can continue to stroke it with confidence from three.

Zach Collins Revenge Game

After being drafted by the Trail Blazers, Collins struggled to find his footing in the league. He’s dealt with injuries, and hasn’t gotten the chance to play a major role for an NBA team... until now. Collins has been fantastic since taking the full-time starting center role after Jakob Poeltl was traded. As a starter, he’s averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

Collins has been a focal point of the offense, running a lot of the Spurs sets out of the high post. He’s been particularly adept at hitting cutters as they move without the ball. It’s opened up a lot for the Spurs offense, and it’s aided their ball movement. The Spurs assist % is 9% better when Collins is on the floor this season. He’s also spacing the floor well for them, shooting 35% from deep as a starter. He’s coming off of a month in which he shot the lights out going 43% from range in March.

If he plays (he’s listed as probable,) he and Jones will likely be the Spurs primary offensive options. With the Trail Blazers running out a depleted roster, Collins will have a great opportunity to show his former team what they missed out on.