Two things to consider prior to Thursday’s game between the Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs.
First: The last time the Spurs played in Portland (back on November 10th), the combination of Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili, and Tiago Splitter racked up an astonishing 63 points. At the same time, Sasha Pavlovic and Meyers Leonard lead the Blazers’ bench in scoring with two points apiece. It was following this game that Portland’s bench really emerged as maybe the worst in the league.
Second: When the Spurs last played on TNT, head coach Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green home, and let his bench take on the Miami Heat. Pop garnered a nice fine ($250,000) and sparked a couple days of pretty cringe inducing (sorry I had to say it) Twitter debate. Also, the Spurs lost to the Heat by five, which very clearly should have been the story.
So what do those things mean for the Blazers Monday? Well…
Even if the Spurs rest their starters on Monday, which they probably won’t, Portland still doesn’t have much of a chance. They got beat up by San Antonio’s bench once already this season. There’s no reason why it won’t happen again.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Sasha Pavlovic, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Spurs Starting 5: PG Tony Parker, SG Gary Neal, SF Danny Green, PF Tim Duncan, C DeJaun Blair
As the unflappable Bobby Roberts of The Portland Mercury has already noted this fine Thursday afternoon, the narrative is set for the nationally televised Blazers/Spurs tilt. San Antonio is the veteran laden team of the last two decades. Portland is the definition of a work in progress that has already been leapfrogged in talent and performance by the Golden State Warriors and in hype by the Houston Rockets.
The Spurs are the team to watch and learn from. Unfortunately learning from a team whilst playing against that same team is a very difficult feat to accomplish. The Blazers hung with the Spurs the last time these two teams faced off, so anything is possible. San Antonio is coming off a loss, though, a very difficult loss that was caused almost entirely by two thing the Spurs almost never do: fail to deliver offensively down the stretch, and forget to lock down a shooter on a very important defensive possession.
With 18 wins under their belt and the second best record in the NBA to their name, you might think a Thursday in Portland is a game San Antonio might take off. But you count out the Spurs at your own discretion.
What to Watch For
- Again, who plays and how much. The Spurs are without Stephen Jackson and Kwahi Leonard. The Blazers are probably going to be without Wesley Matthews, and could possibly be short Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard. I’m going to go on the record and say that Dame plays. Following Monday’s game, Damian said his ankle was fine, which made sense considering he played even after his “injury.” Certainly his questionable listing is precautionary more than anything. As for Nic and Wesley, my contention is bring them back if they’re 100%, otherwise it’s probably not prudent to force it at this point.
- Can the Blazers hang. Slow starts have plagued Portland most of the season. If Thursday’s game gets away from the Blazers early, it’s going to be very difficult to recover from. Hopefully Portland will make a three Thursday, because if they can’t it will be nearly impossible to make up for a big Spurs’ lead if/when that big Spurs’ is established.
- Will Victor Claver show improvement after his first start. I’ve listed Nicolas Batum as my starter for Thursday. He’s listed as questionable, and should he be scratched Victor Claver will be starting once again. Monday the Spanish rookie played 25 and a half minutes. He wasn’t horrible, but he did shoot 2-of-12 from the field and his +14 was the lowest of all Portland’s starters. Maybe one extended run was enough to get Claver his sea legs. We’ll have to wait and see.