Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: KGW. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), C LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas)
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 Antonio McDyess (#34, 6’9″, Alabama), C Tiago Splitter (#22, 6’11”, Brazil)
Tuesday’s blowout win over the Washington Wizards signaled the end of the part of the season where the Blazers had any kind of margin for error. With the unfortunate news today of David West’s ACL tear ending his season, we can probably remove New Orleans from the list of teams Portland needs to worry about passing them in the standings, but that still leaves Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, Utah, and Houston to contend with, so there’s no room at all to drop winnable games. And from this point forward, every game on the Blazers’ schedule winnable, but none of them come close to the levels of “gimme” that were the Cavs and Wizards drubbings. Assuming the top half of the standings stay where they are, the Blazers want either a No. 5 or 6 seed. Any first-round matchup will be tough, but Dallas and Oklahoma City are easier to visualize being upset than the Lakers or tonight’s opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, proud owners of the best record in the NBA.
But just because you don’t want to play the Spurs in a seven-game playoff series doesn’t mean Portland can’t win tonight. They beat the Spurs in February, back when San Antonio looked like they could conceivably go for 70 wins. And now that Gerald Wallace has more or less fully adjusted to his role in Portland, the Blazers are deeper and more cohesive than they were then. But though Tim Duncan is out tonight with an ankle injury, the Blazers’ job isn’t any easier. What makes this year’s Spurs team so frustrating for opponents is their lack of any kind of weakness in their rotation at all. With Duncan out, second-year rebounding machine DeJuan Blair can step in comfortably, and rookie big man Tiago Splitter has put together some solid games lately. The Spurs’ starting unit is filled out by the rock-solid Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Richard Jefferson, and their bench is full of guys who won’t fill up the stat sheets but can give opponents fits if they let them: Gary Neal, George Hill, Matt Bonner, Steve Novak. Nobody on this team cares about their own stats, not even the stars. Everybody buys in. The Spurs are the model of consistency and sustainability in the NBA. You know all of this. That’s why it won’t be any easier to beat them just because a future Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history isn’t playing tonight.
Marcus Camby will play tonight after missing Tuesday’s game, but it’s unclear how effective he’ll be given his ankle sprain. Even if he’s ineffective, though, Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace give the Blazers plenty of defensive firepower. LaMarcus Aldridge had a tremendous game last month against the Spurs, and without Duncan, there’s no reason to believe he won’t repeat that tonight. The key for the Blazers will be whether their bench can match the depth of the Spurs’. Brandon Roy has been in a slump in the four games since his explosive fourth-quarter performance against Dallas last week. Patty Mills and Rudy Fernandez are always streaky. Everyone will have to have an “on” night tonight. It can be done. As Mike said in a great post earlier this week, staying strong at home is crucial in this final stretch run of the season. Tonight, the Blazers can get off to a good start.