The Western Conference Semifinal match-up between the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs begins tonight. This series will be another competitive battle between two contrasting, yet somewhat similar teams.
The Trail Blazers are a high scoring, run-and-gun team who are in the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2000. They are young but they are most definitely hungry. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have been two of the best players in this year’s NBA playoffs. The All-Star duo is looking to continue their dominance and help the Trail Blazers use their underdog mentality to their advantage.
Portland spreads the floor and tends to shoot a lot of three-pointers. When needed, they run the pick-and-roll with both Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Inside scoring is rare but normally comes on a Lillard drive, Lopez hook, or Aldridge post up. The Trail Blazers will need to do a little bit of everything to hang with the savvy Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs are a veteran laden group that approach the game very methodically. Behind Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, the Spurs continue to be the leading example of a successful NBA franchise. From the management, to the coaching, to the players, no one has done it better than the Spurs in the past few decades.
In 17 full seasons under Popovich, the Spurs have been to eight Western Conference Finals and five NBA Finals, winning four titles in those five trips. Future Hall of Fame forward-center hybrid Tim Duncan is having another impressive season. Now 38, he is averaging 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds this season. He is one part of San Antonio’s Big Three, which also includes Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Together, the Big Three had 67 of the Spur’s 119 points in Sunday’s game 7 win over the Mavericks.
Things To Watch For
Will The Regular Season Series Have Any Effect?
During the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs were 62-20, the best record in the NBA. 10 of the 20 losses came to three teams: the Oklahoma City Thunder (0-4), the Houston Rockets (0-4), and the Portland Trail Blazers (2-2). The Trail Blazers are coming off a six game series victory against the Rockets. The Spurs are coming off a seven game series victory against the Mavericks. Anyone have a coin? This series will be another coin flip in what has been an impressive NBA postseason across the board. In the regular season split between the Trail Blazers and Spurs, each team won one game at home and one on the road. If the Trail Blazers can ride the high from Friday’s magical game, they might be able to take this game on the road.
Which Bench Will Show Up?
One glaring contrast between these teams is depth. The production of the bench couldn’t be any more different. During the regular season, the Spurs led the NBA in bench scoring at 44.5 points per game. The Trail Blazers were dead last in that same category, only producing 24.0 bench points per game. Ouch. That wide gap in production might be the deciding factor of this series. The Trail Blazers reserves can score and they can provide a spark; the problem is, that situation rarely happens. More often than not, the Trail Blazers reserves are, for a lack of a better term, reserved. Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Thomas Robinson will need to dig deep and go all out when they are given minutes. If they don’t perform, the Spurs stellar bench of Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and ex-Trail Blazer fan favorite Patty Mills will take full advantage.
How Will The Spurs Defend Aldridge and Lillard?
The series against the Mavericks acted as a dress rehearsal for the Spurs. Their match-up with the Trail Blazers provides similar componets: a jump shooting forward and an explosive, scoring point guard. Popovich was able to control Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis and force others to come up with scoring. It’s no secret that Aldridge and Lillard are the best players for the Trail Blazers. The Spurs will try to defend Aldridge the same way they approached Nowitzki and they will approach Lillard like Ellis. Hopefully the Trail Blazers have watched film on the Spurs defensive strategy and can make offensive adjustments to help free up Aldridge and Lillard.