Game 31 Preview: Blazers vs. Spurs

Game Time:  5:30pm Pacific  TV:  Comcast

OK...so girls in movies where guys wear hockey masks have a better survival rate than the average Blazer player.  And if this were a video game every one of us would have cursed the heavens and hit the power button by now.  But this isn't your 360 hoops hit, it's the NBA.  And that means injured heads, shoulders, knees, and toes notwithstanding there's a game tonight.  It matters to both teams, each of which is still in playoff position.  So shove yesterday's pain aside and let us get down to business.

The Spurs have charted a precarious course to their 15-10 record.  Their November 11th win against the Mavericks stands as their only victory against a high-level (or even good-level) team so far this season.  On the other hand they've feasted against teams considered decent or worse.  The difference between the two performances boils down to defense.  Great teams brush off San Antonio's defense and the Spurs have trouble mounting enough offense to keep up.  Teams that succumb to their defensive wiles cause them no trouble.

If there's a single sign that the Spurs have boarded the escalator down from league elite status it is their defense.  Don't get me wrong...they're still good.  They're 12th in the league in defensive efficiency, 15th in opponent shooting percentage, and 6th in defensive rebounding percentage.  But that's a far cry from the years when they hung "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" signs in the opponent's locker room tunnel.  They have the desire and the know-how, just not the roster.  Gone are the days when Tim Duncan alone would rule the paint, allowing any random defenders to look good outside.  The slower version of Duncan does what he can to keep up but when you're looking at the Matt Bonners and Michael Finleys of the world (and when all of your other big men are ancient) the help just isn't there.  They allow opponents to score in the paint.  You can fast break on them.  It's a different world.

The offense, on the other hand, remains strong.  Duncan is the leading scorer but Parker spearheads the attack as usual.  Manu Ginobili can't hit anything but a three-pointer this year, which is somewhat inhibiting.  Richard Jefferson is doing OK but hasn't made the impact they hoped on either end of the floor.  Consistency has been a major issue for him.  The Spurs rely on the three and have multiple supporting players who can shoot it.  They generate free throws but have a hard time hitting them.  Those extra points give them the margin they need when opponents move faster, take better care of the ball, and get up more shots.  All of that said, if you can take away any leg of the Spurs' attack you have a good chance of toppling them.  They don't have offensive juggernauts stashed away.  What you see is what you get:  efficient, practiced, and coming pretty close to maxing out their potential.

The truly dangerous part of the evening is that, unlike Dallas, San Antonio will be fully expecting the Blazers lineup that shows up tonight.  No middle, maybe no leading scorer, paper-thin bench.  They're going to be looking to exploit us.  The only way out of that is to play through it and play harder.

Keys to the Game

1.  The Blazers have to find some way to keep up on the boards in this game.  Both teams like to control the pace and the action.  Rebounds are the key to success.

2.  As we said about last night's game, the defensive rebounding prowess of this team will likely take away one of the planks of Portland's attack: the offensive rebound.  The best way to counter that is to not need offensive rebounds, which means making your shots.

3.  I don't see Portland winning if they can't hit their threes.

4.  Tony Parker is a PAIN for the Blazers.  You have to make him defend to have a chance.  If he can just relax, run, and shoot he'll bury our defensively-challenged guards.  Whoever he defends can't just hang in the corner waiting for the ball tonight.

5.  Whoever plays off-guard, whether it's Brandon or Bayless, is going to have to score to make this work.  Jerryd, if this is your night make it your night.  If Roy's not playing the light is green from the opening tip.  Get ‘em.

Check out what Spurs fans have to say at PoundingtheRock.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.   Remember even if you're too far behind to win the prize this month you do get points towards the playoffs for being consistently decent and you can win a jersey instantly with a perfect 100 score.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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