Tough road test
The Portland Trail Blazers are at a point in the year where every game matters. There’s no more excusing losses to good teams, and the San Antonio Spurs are no exception the rule.
Matchup: Portland (28-32) vs. San Antonio Spurs (48-14)
Venue: AT&T Center
Time: 5:30 PM PT
Date: Friday, March 8, 2013
If Portland wants to make a run at the postseason, the time to assert itself is now. One game has never decided a season, but this one will set the path for a trip to the playoffs or a trip to lottery.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
Tony Parker will miss Friday’s game vs. Portland. (Photo: Don Ryan/AP)
The San Antonio Spurs enter this game as the best team in the NBA. Their 48-14 record is the top winning percentage in the Association, and they’re coming off a blowout win over the Chicago Bulls.
Portland is far from the top of the Western Conference, but its proven it can be competitive against the best the league has to offer.
Despite a horiffic second half against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers showed that they can compete on the road against playoff-caliber opponents. San Antonio is about as deep as it comes, but Portland’s starting five can compete with anybody in terms of minutes played and points scored.
The Blazers have been a middle-of-the-road group on both sides of the ball, which won’t bode well for them against the Spurs. Gregg Popovich’s team has excelled on both offense and defense, so Portland must step up its game on at least one side of the floor.
What to Watch: Portland
When the season began, it was painfully clear for fans in Rip City that depth was going to be an issue. The reserves couldn’t score, they couldn’t rebound and they certainly couldn’t defend the paint with any regularity.
As the season has progressed, we’ve slowly watched them improve as a unit, and the the addition of Eric Maynor is a big part of that improvement.
San Antonio’s depth will kill most teams throughout the league, so it’s unfair to ask the Blazers’ to matchup point for point – or any other category – with them on Friday. What you can ask for, though, is energy and similar production to what we’ve seen as of late.
Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver are starting to come into their own, and while they still have major areas of improvement, they’re no longer hurting the team the way they were early in the season. This is a young team off the bench, and if they can take care of the ball and lock down defensively, it’s going to make a huge difference when they’re in the game at San Antonio.
What to Watch: San Antonio
When it comes to the Spurs, it’s tough to choose one area to watch. They’re a well-oiled machine, and Gregg Popovich doesn’t let them get away with anything that isn’t according to plan.
But while this team typically does things the same game in and game out, we’ve watched them transition back and forth between and up-tempo, fast-break team and slow-it-down, half-court unit.
To begin the year, this team played at a crawl. It was a drastic change from how they played in 2011-12, and it was suprising to those who had gotten used to seeing an exciting brand of basketball in San Antonio.
Since then, however, the team has picked up the pace. Tim Duncan is playing with a newfound youth, and with the young players spelling the veterans off the bench, they’ve been able to run teams out of the gym while still locking down on defense.
The key matchup in Saturday’s contest is between Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge. (Photo: Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)
Defensively, it’s going to be interesting to see how they attack Damian Lillard. The rookie point guard had a massive game the last time these teams met, and with Tony Parker out of the lineup, you have to imagine they’ll bring help to avoid isolation sets against Patty Mills.
Damian Lillard may be the future of this team, but LaMarcus Aldridge is the All-Star, and he’s the one matching up against arguably the greatest power forward of all time, Tim Duncan.
Duncan has been outstanding this season. He looks quick, strong and most importantly healthy, and he’s getting the job done on both ends of the floor.
He’s not quite the player he used to be, but he’s still the perfect player to find success in Gregg Popovich’s system.
This game is going to come down to one key battle – LaMarcus Aldridge’s offense versus Duncan’s defense. Aldridge is the more versatile player on the offensive side of the floor, but Duncan’s defense is superior at this stage in their careers.
Watch this battle on both sides of the court, and watch to see which player excels in an up-tempo style.
Portland: OUT – Sasha Pavlovic
San Antonio: OUT – Tony Parker
The Trail Blazers know what needs to get done in order to reach the playoffs, but making it happen is a whole different story. San Antonio is arguaboy the toughest opponent left on the schedule, and a trip to AT&T Center could prove to be disappointing.
Blazers 91 – Spurs 105
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