Blazers, Spurs Pre-Thoughts

After all the talk of the Spurs’ new additions — Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair — it’s important to remember that they haven’t transformed them into some juggernaut. The Spurs have been very good for a long time. They are still very good. The offseason moves haven’t as much made them much better as they have kept them from getting worse, which it appeared might happen as injuries began to take their toll last season. The championship window in still open, and as such the Spurs’ story will not be told until next spring.

The Spurs have a slow, half-court system and they tend to run it nearly to perfection. Tim Duncan scores in the post, Tony Parker breaks people down off the dribble and Manu Ginobili does a little bit of everything — which now includes Bat catching, or Bat murder if you are a member of PETA — but it is not a one-on-one offense. They focus on getting the defense out of position and then capitalizing on that by finding open shooters. Novel, huh? This will also be a possession dependent game, as the Spurs don’t turn the ball over much (40 in their first three games) nor do they force many (40 again in a small sample size, but they are generally a bottom half, if not third, team in both categories).

What this means is the Blazers need to score at an efficient clip. Last year, as you know, they were the most efficient team in the league. This year, they are just above the league average, scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs, on the other hand, are Top 5 in both points per 100 possessions and in team effective field-goal percentage (which factors in threes).

Good news, in theory, is that the Spurs played a late game against Utah last night so they might not be as efficient as they usually are. Their jumpers might not be falling, and if that happens, it should be Portland’s game to lose if they control the boards and re-discover their offensive flow. Of course, that was the theory with the Nuggets coming into town and Carmelo Anthony slaughtered us. Still, it remains likely that San Antonio won’t be at it’s offensive best, at least in the early going.

Because of what you have to do to beat the Spurs, it’s a nice test for Portland to what is working and what isn’t. We’ll see if Greg Oden can avoid fouls on Duncan McCraftyinthepaint. We’ll see if it even matters who is out there at point guard for defensive purposes. We’ll see if Martell can out-Richard Jefferson, Richard Jefferson now that he doesn’t have to guard an elite scorer. Mostly, we’ll see how far the Blazers have to go. They aren’t going to get there with one win, but win or lose we’ll have a decent benchmark for progress.

Keys to the Game:

-When possessions are a premium, rebounds are your currency. The Spurs are not a good offensive rebounding team because they run a lot of shooters in their lineups, so you must keep them from having a fluke night grabbing missed shots.

-Limit the fouls. The Blazers are putting opponents on the free-throw line relative to field goals attempted (.32 free throws per field goal) more than any other team in the league. The Spurs don’t get to a line a ton, and if they come out flat with their jumpers hitting iron, we can’t bail them out by offering them freebies. Tony and Manu aren’t going to be contained by our guards, but the help defense must be there early so touch fouls are avoided and nobody (Greg, Joel) is picking up fouls trying to make a help rotation that isn’t even theirs to make.

-Be patient. It’s very difficult to run on the Spurs and get easy buckets early in the shot clock — not that Portland has done that much at all — so the Blazers have to run through their sets and work the ball around for open shots. An inside-out game would be nice, but as long as the ball is moving and guys are active on the boards we should be in position to get a win.

It sounds boring, but beating the Spurs is all about executing and being efficient. The Blazers have done neither of those things very well so far, but they will eventually. If they don’t tonight, then they could have trouble with a team that does everything that Portland wants to do, so very well.

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