For the fourth and final time this season, the Portland Trail Blazers (42-22) will play the San Antonio Spurs (47-16). This will also be the second game of a back-to-back for the Trail Blazers, after falling in Memphis last night 99-109. The Trail Blazers find themselves on a three-game losing streak once again and will look to regain confidence against the Spurs, whom they have matched up well with in earlier meetings.
The road woes continue for the Trail Blazers as does the dream of a top four seed in the playoffs. After the loss to the Grizzlies last night, the Trail Blazers sit two games behind the Rockets for the fourth place spot in the Western Conference. Portland was able to curb their recent turnover problems against the Grizzlies (only eight turnovers) but still struggled from the field. The Trail Blazers shot 40.7 percent which was right in line with their 40.6 percent performance in Houston on Sunday.
The only bright spot among the murkiness last night was Damian Lillard’s play. Lillard had a game-high 32 points and made a career-high 12 free throws on 13 attempts. Even with the high point total, Lillard struggled from the field just like everyone else. He shot a horrid 38 percent by himself but when you combine his effort with Aldridge, it gets even worse. Lillard and Aldridge, Portland’s All-Star duo, totaled 16 of 44 from the floor (36 percent). Leading the team in points won’t be enough to win in San Antonio tonight. Lillard and Aldridge must be able to increase their efficiency and share the ball.
The San Antonio Spurs have the league’s best record and longest active winning streak. They are 9-1 over their last 10 games and are hoping to even the season series against the Trail Blazers. The Spurs will also be in the second game of a back-to-back after they posted a 104-96 win in Chicago last night. Since missing 14 games due to a fractured hand, Kawhi Leonard has been the spark for the Spurs. They are 7-0 since his return and it’s easy to see that why. Leonard is averaging 15.0 points and 2.4 steals during that stretch. The Spurs were able to beat the Trail Blazers in their last meeting without Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard. All three will be active tonight and the Trail Blazers will have their hands full.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Mo Williams is questionable for tonight’s game after suffering a strain in his right hip last night.
- Joel Freeland is out with a sprained MCL.
San Antonio Spurs:
- Danny Green will play but is dealing with a sore wrist. Green played only 10 minutes last night and was 0-1 from the field.
Keys To The Game
Blazers Backcourt vs. Manu Ginobili. The Trail Blazers backcourt will most likely be thin tonight. Mo Williams is dealing with an injury and the team played hard last night. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews will probably log a ton of minutes against the Spurs. After sending Allen Crabbe to the D-League, Matthews back ups include CJ McCollum and Will Barton. These options are normally pretty solid. Both McCollum and Barton have shown they can contribute. The problem tonight will be Manu Ginobili. Ginobili has been very impressive over the past four games. He is averaging 15.8 points while shooting an astonishing 61.4 percent from the field. In the second game of this series, Ginobili posted a season-high 29 points. I expect him to be firing on all cylinders tonight and continue to be a match-up nightmare.
Assists: The Trail Blazers are eighth overall in assists per game in the NBA this season. They average 23.3 assists which is ultimately a leading factor to any Trail Blazers victory. Lately, the ball movement has diminished. The Trail Blazers only had 18 assists last night and posted 17 assists in the first loss of the road trip in Dallas. They were able to total up 24 assists against the Rockets but had 20 turnovers that negated almost all of them. When the Trail Blazers swing the ball, it’s a beautiful sight. That’s one of the main reasons it’s fun to watch this team. Tonight, if they can be at their season average in assists while limiting turnovers, they will be in a position to win.
Damian Lillard. Lillard has been a main focus throughout this preview. He is a guy that can take over a game or let the game take over him. We know he’s an All-Star, one of the league’s brightest young players. In three games against the Spurs this season, Lillard is averaging 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. The lone meeting in San Antonio in January, Lillard had 21 points, five rebounds, and nine assists. Lillard has totaled 53 points over the last two games and will be relied upon a lot tonight. I think it’s just about Lillard Time!
— Austin Raz (@Austin_Raz) March 12, 2014