The San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers have not met in the NBA Playoffs since 1999. The Spurs completed a four game sweep of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals that year and went on to win the NBA Championship against the New York Knicks. No shame in losing; the Spurs lost a grand total of two games that postseason – one to the Timberwolves in the first round and one to the Knicks in the Finals.
There are two San Antonio pieces still in play 15 years later: 3x Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich and 14x NBA All-Star Tim Duncan. Everyone else is brand new (when was the last time you heard that about the Spurs?). Duncan may be about a zillion in basketball years (38), but he is still one of the best forwards in the league. He and Popovich are the biggest threats to Portland making it out of the Western Conference semifinals.
Duncan will give you 15 and 10 with a couple blocks every night despite his age, and Popovich is fresh off another Coach of the Year season, boasting the third highest win percentage in his tenure. They are the most experienced and lethal player-coach duo in basketball today. If the Trail Blazers are to stand a chance against the Spurs, they must be equally cunning. Having younger legs hasn’t done much for anyone against San Antonio lately.
This burden, as usual, falls primarily on Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. This is Stotts’ first time making it out of the first round, and only second time making the playoffs in his six year career as a head coach (last time was with the Bucks in 2006, coincidentally with Mo Williams as a sixth man then too). His dearth of experience does not bode well, but it is far from a fatal flaw. Everyone has to start winning some time, and he did just outcoach Kevin McHale in Round 1.
The rest of the burden falls mostly on LaMarcus Aldridge as the Trail Blazers’ clear-cut best veteran. He will be counted on as a leader in the locker room as well as on the court. His influence on the game and his teammates is more important than ever. It’s time for him to prove that he can be the best player on a winning team. Of course, this is not to let anyone else off the hook. Everyone needs to bring their A game.
The series will commence on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. PDT at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. I’m sure the Trail Blazers are tired of spending time in Texas, but at least they won’t have to play the recently eliminated Dallas Mavericks if they make it out of this round too. Stotts has his greatest coaching challenge before him. Can he and Aldridge make some more history as they face history itself?