The Trail Blazers (13-18) season is growing more desperate by the day. Tonight they take to the floor in a bid to end a four-game losing streak. Unfortunately, they are hosting the indomitable San Antonio Spurs (23-6).
A bleak outlook
There is nothing rarer in professional sports than the San Antonio Spurs: A franchise that consistently manages to transition from season to season, era to era, seemingly never taking a step back. Their road record an unthinkable 15-2, with a plus-minus score differential of 7.7.
A top five defense and a top ten offense means that, in all likelihood, the Trail Blazers will struggle to stay in this game, let alone win it. Kawhi Leonard, a man who is the basketball embodiment of the old adage “it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for”, paces the Spurs in points (24ppg) and is widely regarded as the best wing defender in the NBA. Whoever he is assigned to, will be in for a rough night.
In the front-court, Rip City will see the familiar face of former Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. No longer the focal point he once was in Portland, Aldridge is averaging just 16.3 points and 6.8 rebounds – his lowest since his 2006-07 Rookie season. That, however, is more a testament to the Spurs style of play and number of weapons rather than evidence of a declining player. His skills and offensive proficiency are well known throughout the Moda Center.
Clutching at straws
It’s no real surprise that, given the Spurs will be on the second night of a back-to-back, Gregg Popovich implements his controversial tactic of resting key players. Future Hall of Famers Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol will all sit this one out. Perhaps Popovich is saying something about the danger this iteration of the Trail Blazers presents…
As much of a let off as this is, it actually takes away one of the Trail Blazers key chances to win this game – attacking Parker and Gasol using the pick and roll. More mobile replacements such as Mills provide a much quicker defender to chase Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum around the court. Expect this duty to be shared with Leonard and Green.
As always though, the potent Portland offense will likely see its legs kicked out from underneath itself by farcical defensive efforts. Given that, from a high level overview at least, defense is a role of will rather than skill, how much longer will the front office or ownership allow this level of incompetence to continue?
Al-Farouq Aminu’s health appears to have played far too significant a role in the Trail Blazers defense (or lack thereof). With him on the floor, they’re defensive rating is 105.2 (equivalent to 20th in the NBA) versus 112.1 when’s he’s off (still, worst in the league). Some consistent appearances from Aminu should see the Portland D start trending in the right direction. However, against tonight’s opponents, even a significantly improved defensive showing will likely still fall short of a W.