Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7′1″, Minnesota)
Projected San Antonio Starting Lineup: PG Tony Parker (#9, 6’2″, France), SG Manu Ginobili (#20, 6’6″, Argentina), SF Richard Jefferson (#24, 6’7″, Arizona), PF Tim Duncan (#21, 6’11″, Wake Forest), C DeJuan Blair (#45, 6’7″, Pittsburgh)
The Blazers have generally played the Spurs well at home, but the disparity in level of play between these two teams this season is astronomical. Well past the halfway point of the 2010-11 season, San Antonio is the only team in the entire NBA still boasting a single-digit loss total, and of the six teams that have beaten them (including the Hornets twice), the only one that can’t be characterized as a playoff team is the Clippers, and that doesn’t even count as a “bad team” lately.
The Spurs’ success this season is surprising, but it’s also not. Their “big three” of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili is unchanged, and while they’re all playing solid ball as always, all three of them have seen their minutes decrease. You would think this transition would result in a hit to their chemistry, but, well, look at their record. There’s hardly a bad player on this roster, and it would appear that they’ve assembled the perfect cast of role players.
None of these guys outside of the big three can be considered “stars,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more complimentary set of players in the NBA. Starting center DeJuan Blair is a rebounding machine, and could prove to be the difference-maker tonight as the Blazers continue to trot out only a hobbled Joel Przybilla in the middle with Marcus Camby out. Richard Jefferson is shooting a solid 47.5 precent from the field, and point guard George Hill, three-point-shooting center Matt Bonner, and rookie Gary Neal can usually be counted on to contribute solid minutes off the bench.
The main thing the Blazers have going for them tonight is LaMarcus Aldridge’s history of big nights against the Spurs. He was the one bright spot of December’s 95-78 loss in San Antonio, and this was before he started playing on an All-Star level night in and night out. But even a huge performance from Aldridge won’t be enough against these guys if the rest of the team, particularly the bench, doesn’t step up. San Antonio has one of the deepest benches in the league, and with another tough matchup coming up tomorrow against Denver, Portland’s reserves shooting well enough to give the starters some rest would be a huge help, especially given the minor-but-potentially-problematic recent injuries to Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.
As with the Celtics last week, a win tonight would be a huge morale boost for a team desperately in need of one, but you can’t expect it to happen. The Spurs give problems to the best teams in the league, they’re extremely well-coached, and they have players who know their roles and can generally play them well on a nightly basis.