Game 12 Preview: Spurs vs. Blazers

A Look at the Spurs

Hey everybody!  The nicest team in the NBA is coming to town!  And they're going to kick...our...butts.  You probably don't need me to tell you much about San Antonio, but for consistency's sake I will.

Their hallmark, calling card, and the reason they've been among the NBA elite for the entire millennium is their defense.  It hasn't slowed down much.  They're second in the league in points allowed at 91.8, trailing only Houston by four-tenths of a point.  And this isn't that cheapo, "we play a slow down game" points allowed aberration either.  This is real, honest-to-goodness defense.  In this young season the Spurs are 6th in field goal percentage allowed, 2nd in point differential, 1st in defensive rebounds, 1st in total rebounds, and 4th in rebound differential.  They will shut you down quicker than a cheerleader debutante at a Microsoft convention.  (Oh wait, did I say that?  There goes the big interview with the owner...)

The centerpiece of the team is, of course, Tim Duncan.  Forget the 21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.7 blocks, 53.5% shooting, and 8 free throws a game...this guy is a defensive stopper.  Much of our game plan, when successful, has been to pound it inside to Zach or Lamarcus or, failing that, to drive hard with the guards.  Duncan will screw that up all by himself.  The only way things could get worse for us in there is if they somehow resurrected David Robinson's career.  Tony Parker has long wanted to be seen as a star, and he's making his bid early this year by scoring 20+ on 52% shooting.  He and Manu Ginobili provide most of the offensive spark for the team but Manu, perhaps languishing in the shadow of Parker's star aspirations, is off to a slow start.  Nevertheless these two will slice you and dice you in transition and the halfcourt both.  You can sag off Manu a little but you better not leave either wide open on the perimeter or you're asking for a long night.

San Antonio's center spot is manned by a couple of newcomers, Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson.  Both list rebounding as a strength though neither is known as a consistent defender.  They can also hit a shot when called upon (well, Elson can dunk anyway) and know their respective roles.  Elson, in particular, is an athletic wonder and dangerous when he uses his body.   Bruce Bowen holds down the starting small forward position.  Although he is also having a slow start to the season offensively he is a masterful perimeter defender and a marvelous three-point threat when left open.  The other key players off the bench include veterans Robert Horry, Michael Finley, and Brent Barry.  Of the three only Barry is hitting right now.  The other two are playing miserably.  But if you don't stay on them they will revive quickly.  I shudder to think what Finley, in particular, could do to any helping defensive scheme.  6'3" Beno Udrih completes the bench corps and is starting to show signs of life after also starting slow.

The main thing to know about San Antonio right now is that 75% of their cylinders aren't firing and they're still 8-2 and 5-0 on the road.  That, my friends, is a scary thought.

Things I'd like to see:

I'll tell you right now that I don't see any logical reasons we should win this game.  If you can come up with some (not just wishing...I can do that) please add them in the comments section.  That said, there are a couple things I'd like to see that might keep us close or maybe even give us that miracle chance.

  1.  Ball movement will be the key tonight.  I haven't mentioned this often because it's been off and on with the team so far this year and we've been winning anyway by exploiting matchups and hustling.  We don't have many exploitable matchups tonight so the game will have to be contested when the ball is in between people's hands rather than in them.  If we dump it to Zach or drive one-on-one we are going to get smashed.  We have to dump it in the post, draw a double (if they even bother) then pass it back out and whip it to the weak side for an open shot.  Since they'll likely put their best defender on Zach and not double him it might be Lamarcus' job to first burn them and then make them pay by passing out of the pressure.  Who knows if he's up to it.  Similarly the guards will have to drive and dish rather than expect to drive and finish all night.
  2.  Normally deep jumpers are anathema to us, but we're just plain going to have to hit some to stay in this game.  The one glaring weakness in the Spurs' game (at least relative to the rest of it) is their perimeter defense.  Neither Parker nor Ginobili are natural defenders and especially in a game in which they expect to cruise neither will close out that hard.  If we can move them out of position either by passing the ball or driving past them and then find whoever gets left as the defense collapses at least we'll get an open shot.  We need to pray we make them.  This could be a huge game for the likes of Webster, Udoka, and even Dixon.
  3.  If we have a choice we should force the ball away from Duncan and Parker and make someone else beat us, hoping that they'll remain cold.  We might be able to give help from the center position but most everyone else will have to stay home so tonight's game will require some manly individual defensive efforts.
  4.  If by some stroke of fortune we do get them to miss we really need to hit the boards.  Outside of Duncan they don't have a lot of good offensive rebounders.
  5.  Again from the "don't recommend this often" file:  we might see a glimmer of daylight in the ability to outrun them.  I don't know how much their starters will get back in transition and their bench guys, though skilled, are a bit old for all that stuff.  They will squash us in a control game.  Our best hope might be to chuck all that and push the tempo.  We certainly shouldn't be walking it up the court and letting them set.
That's my best shot, folks.  This is probably one of those games you look for improvement more than hard results.  If we even stay close I'll be happy, because the Spurs don't choke away many games to teams they should beat.  My great hope is to see some more of that youthful energy and spring coupled with some free-form dashes down the court.  My recurring nightmare is seeing Jarrett Jack walk it up the court, set up on the right wing, dump it in to Zach, and then have everybody stand around and watch as the Spurs throttle us like a rubber chicken, turning the inevitable turnovers and bricks into easy buckets at the other end.  Part two of that nightmare would be seeing them hit mid-range jumpers, then post moves, and finally demoralizing drives while our defense progressively breaks down as we wildly triple-team without rhyme or reason in a vain attempt to stop them.  Let's hope reality is somewhat kinder.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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