Blazers: 7-3 (2nd Northwest Division)
Spurs: 7-4 (1st Southwest Division)
Game Details: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX. 5:30 PM. TV: CSN Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected San Antonio Starting Lineup: PG Tony Parker (#9, 6’2”, Paris, France), SG Kawhi Leonard (#2, 6’7”, San Diego State), SF Richard Jefferson (#24, 6’7”, Arizona), PF Tim Duncan (#21, 6’11”, Wake Forest), C DeJuan Blair (#45, 6’7”, Pittsburgh)
Portland is about to embark on a six-game road trip, one-fewer than the total number of home games the Blazers have played thus far. This is going to be an important stretch, not just because Portland has struggled somewhat on the road.
This Blazer team has a lot of elements that it can put into play to help win games. Having said that, they have yet to land on an all encompassing identity. As John Canzano states, this team might be able to forge that identity while traveling together for a week and a half. The road is a good time for guys to bond, especially since Portland is still, in a sense, trying to get the newest pieces to become fully integrated, and to get the team to work as a well-oiled machine night in and night out.
San Antonio is as good a place as any to start what will be a grueling run in the middle of what has already been a long January that is currently only 12 days old.
The Spurs are the Spurs are the Spurs. Some teams rise and fall over the course of a decade, but not this one. Every year they are counted out–or at least every year since the last time they were NBA Champions which was 2007–and every year it doesn’t matter. They compete. And they win. Already this season their core has aged yet another year, they’ve lost Manu Ginoboli for a little while to a broken hand, and all they’ve done is win seven games and grab an early hold on the top spot in the Southwest Division.
The San Antonio Spurs are always going to be good. The best part about that, is that Portland won’t be caught by surprise. The worst part: the Blazers will have to play a tight game, make as few mistakes as possible, and dictate the pace and style of play, and even then it’s going to be hard to come out of the AT&T Center with a victory.
Beating San Antonio is going to have more to do with how Portland plays than how the Spurs play, and that’s the way it’s going to be all season. The Blazers are as good as probably every top level team in the NBA, meaning if they play the way they want to, they’ll be in any game. What Portland has to do is pretty clear at this point. ONE: Play Defense. TWO: Attack the basket on offense. And THREE: PLAY MORE DEFENSE.
The Orlando Magic game tape from Wednesday night isn’t as burnable as the Phoenix game tape. Actually watching that fourth quarter might be the kind of thing that will fire the team up, showing how this team refuses to give up even on a lost cause. Along with that fourth quarter, Portland might want to watch the first quarter, if only to see how not to defend San Antonio’s shooters.
On Wednesday, the Blazers were slow on closing out on shooters, and didn’t rotate to the rim to cut off guards and wings driving through the lane. Coming late on the help-side to protect the rim makes sense against Orlando; you leave Dwight Howard and all the ball handler has to do is toss the rock at the rim and it’s an easy two. Closing out late on the shooters is about execution. The Spurs don’t have the same cadre of gunners that the Magic do, but they do have some guys that can shoot the ball. And every wing in the NBA can knock down an open shot.
When it comes to individual player match-ups, the guys to watch are going to be Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, but San Antonio is a team, and they play a team game. Trying to stop one or two players and not everybody on the court will be a mistake.
Here’s what I’m going to watch for:
- Portland’s ability to play on the road: The road hasn’t been overly kind to the Blazers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win outside of the Rose Garden. Beating Oklahoma City in Oklahoma City was one of Portland’s biggest road victories in quite awhile. The Blazers won’t have the backing of the home crowd should they get behind. But, again, that doesn’t have to be the difference maker. If, on Friday, Portland can harness the energy of the RG, and make a statement early, they can beat San Antonio. Beating San Antonio will make the next five road games that much easier.
- Gerald Wallace: Crash has been phenomenal most of Portland’s 10 games. He’s hit a couple snags (a zero-pointer in Los Angeles against the Clips and one-pointer in Phoenix), but nothing so bad as to say that he shouldn’t be the focus of Portland’s offense early in games. In fact, Gerald Wallace needs to score for Portland to win. San Antonio is another team that just can’t match-up with Crash. Give him the ball, let him go to work.
- Offensive balance: Portland needs to take a page out of the Magic’s playbook, and get everybody involved on offense. The Blazers are deep. Taking advantage of that depth can be a difference maker.
**Quick note, I’ll be going to Seattle Friday evening to watch Uhh Yeah Dude tape a live podcast so I’ll be watching this game on DVR and posting a recap Saturday morning**
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