Game 36 Preview: Blazers @ Spurs

A Look at the Spurs

For years the Spurs were as familiar, beloved, and effective as your favorite old pair of jeans...not flashy, not stylish, just practical and comfortable.  There are some signs of things changing in San Antonio, however--moving, as most things do with this great franchise--at a glacial pace but moving nonetheless.  We are seeing the early signs of this becoming more and more Tony Parker's and Manu Ginobili's team and a little less Tim Duncan's.  TD's season averages are down slightly from his career pace.  20 points and 10 rebounds are nothing to sneeze at, but for Duncan they seem...pedestrian.  He's still averaging 55% from the field and swatting almost two shots a game but his free throw percentage is creeping nearer and nearer to 60% (going the wrong way).  Meanwhile Parker and Ginobili are starting to take over more of the offense.  The guards have exploded big time in the last five games, producing tons of points off of tons of shots, while Duncan has taken fewer shots, gotten to the free throw line less, and been erratic rebounding.  San Antonio has also lost three of those five games, so whether this is a good thing is up to debate.  The main guys in the supporting cast--Finley, Bowen, Horry--have been up and down, mostly down in the case of Finley who has to be causing the Spurs a major case of buyer's remorse.  Bowen is always a steadfast defender but his offensive contributions are sliding towards Przybilla land.  It will be fascinating to see which kind of shots are taken and who produces against the relatively weak Blazer defense.  They could probably feed Duncan all day and come out with a safe win, but will they have the patience to do so?

Despite tremors of uncertainty, the Spurs are unquestionably an elite team.  They shoot well, especially from the outside.  They'll drop 100 on you nowadays without blinking.  They share the ball very, very well.  They only allow 91 points per game, good for 2nd in the league.  They allow a semi-uncharacteristic 45% shooting clip, mostly due to their less defensively intense backcourt, but that's still good for 10th in the league so it's not like they're truly porous.  Besides, with a +8.5 point per game differential you know these guys aren't anyone to mess with.  Probably a poor Blazer fan shouldn't even dare to point out any possible chinks in their armor, bowing in reverence and awe instead.

Tony Parker is coming off of a hip injury but I haven't read anything that says he won't play tonight.  If he rested it would be a big blessing for us.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  Hold the guards in check.  I think Duncan can score 35 and maybe the Spurs could lose, but if Ginobili and Parker both top 20 they'll beat us even if Duncan was off.  If we were a very good interior team I'd ask us to press the Spurs' uncertainty by trying to throttle off Duncan entirely but that's not going to happen.
  2.  The #1 overwhelming key to keeping their backcourt in check is to keep them away from the rim.  First and foremost this means no cheap fast break buckets, but you also have to defend the halfcourt.  Help defense will be critical here because our guards will not be able to sag off in order to block penetration.  If they try the guards will simply bury long range bombs and we'll be down by 20 in the first half.  Simply put:  our big men must be alert in stepping in to stop the drive and then extra alert in rotating and/or getting back to their own men to stop the dishes for dunks.  If our big guys are standing still on defense we're dead.
  3.  We usually throw anybody but Zach in there to guard Duncan.  This is a great opportunity for our big guys to collect some fouls.  No easy buckets for TD.  Test that foul shooting.
  4.  Speaking of big men, if Raef LaFrentz could be useful taking some of the opposing bigs away from the bucket...use him!  This also applies to Webster.  If he can hit, say, six threes and grab as many rebounds that would spread the court and give us a potential leg up.
  5.  We are absolutely going to have to shoot a high percentage to win this game.  Clear, clean shots...no dipsy-doodles into double coverage.  If you don't have it, move the ball to someone who does.
  6.  Even if ALL of that goes right (and that's a tall order) it'll still take some serious hustle to even give us a chance.  Bench energy is going to be critical.  The Spurs are experienced but not really all that deep or athletic.  I want to see everybody looking like they just came from a Starbucks out there.
If we had won that game against Miami I would say there was a 0% chance of us winning this one.  Because of the whims of the basketball gods and the weird way things sometimes turn for this team, I'm going to up it to a blind, lucky 2% chance.  I guess we can hope for a semi-entertaining game even if a victory isn't in the cards.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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