Posted January 12, 2012 on AP on Fox
No team has been better at home than the San Antonio Spurs. The next challenge to that perfect record comes from the club that has had more recent success against them than any other. The Portland Trail Blazers go for their ninth win in 10 meetings with San Antonio on Friday night when the opener of this season series kicks off their six-game road trip. Portland (7-3) has not finished with a better record than the Spurs (7-4) in more than a decade but has dominated this series of late. The Blazers' 9-2 record versus San Antonio over the past three seasons is easily the best in the NBA, including wins in the last three matchups. Strong defense has keyed their run of eight wins in the last nine meetings, holding the Spurs to an average of 89.7 points. Tony Parker's 12.2 scoring average against Portland over the past two seasons is his worst against any Western Conference opponent. Parker had a season-high 28 points in a 101-95 overtime victory over Houston on Wednesday night, helping the Spurs improve to 7-0 at home for their best start there since 2007-08. "He's unbelievable," Tim Duncan said of Parker, who hit four free throws in overtime. Duncan also had a strong game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. He had two steals and a block in overtime. He moved past Larry Bird into 27th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list and could climb one more spot Friday, sitting 15 points behind Gary Payton's 21,813. "I'm still a big part of this team, and I want to be a leader of this team," Duncan said. "I want to be a leader on and off the floor. I want (coach Gregg Popovich) and the rest of the guys to count on me to do that, and I'm ready to do that." The other of the Spurs' three veteran stars, Manu Ginobili, is out with a broken hand, and now they have a new face in the starting lineup. Rookie Kawhi Leonard got his first start Wednesday, contributing 11 points and eight rebounds. He's scored in double figures in three straight games after failing to do so in his first eight. "He's very willing, he's very versatile, and I think he's got the ability to be one heck of a player - and he wants to be," Popovich said. "We're excited about him." The Blazers also have a new scoring threat this season in Jamal Crawford, who was signed as a free agent and now looks to build off his best performance in a Portland uniform. Crawford scored 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting Wednesday against Orlando, and the Blazers nearly rallied from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter only to lose 107-104. "When you play so hard like that, there are good things in your team's future," Crawford told the Blazers' official website. "We didn't throw in the towel at all. We continued to fight and continued to play hard." LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points as Portland lost for the first time in six games this season when he's scored more than 20. He had a 40-point game in one meeting with San Antonio last season but averaged 13.0 in the other three. The Blazers have lost two of their three road games, but the one win came against West-leading Oklahoma City. Their trip continues Saturday in Houston and includes visits next week to New Orleans, Atlanta, Toronto and Detroit.
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