Game 52 Preview: Spurs vs. Blazers

Game Time:  7:30 p.m.  TV:  TNT

Even a cursory look at San Antonio's season to date tells you that this isn't your grandmother's Spurs team.  They're still good, mind you.  The winning record will tell you that.  But early-season slumps aside San Antonio used to win against all comers.  This year they're bolstering their record by beating weaker teams, primarily at home.  They've had quality wins but they've also played 29 games in San Antonio versus 18 on the road.  They're right around .500 away from home.  They're right around .500 against conference teams.  They aren't the world-beaters they used to be.

Gone are the days when the Spurs packed the most feared defense in the league.  This season they rank 12th in field goal percentage allowed, 16th in points in the paint allowed, 18th in fast-break points allowed, and 10th in defensive efficiency.  They're giving up almost 3 more points per game on average than they did last season.  The one thing they still do at an exemplary level is hit the defensive boards.

Fortunately for San Antonio they are also scoring 3.8 more points per game than they did last season.  They're 6th in the league in field goal percentage, 7th in effective field goal percentage, 8th in true shooting percentage, and 7th in offensive efficiency.  They play fairly slowly but they're efficient with their possessions as always.

San Antonio's offense still relies on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker but not as heavily as it once seemed.  Together the two take around 38% of the team's shots.  Both are steady performers and have the distinction of being the only Spurs besides DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess who don't shoot a ton of threes.  The other 62% of the attempts are spread out between Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, and a bunch of other three-point shooters.  Every non-big-man reserve attempts at least a quarter of their shots from beyond the arc, many drifting towards half or more of their attempts being from range.  They're good at it though.  The Spurs' field goal percentage remains high from both two- and three-point ranges.  The classic attack is to pressure you with the stars and let the supporting cast clean up with open jumpers.  Blair, McDyess, and Duncan try to clean up what the others miss.

Even though percentages are high, assists are plentiful, turnovers are manageable, and efficiency is good the Spurs still get anemic offensive performances that cripple them.  Richard Jefferson averages only 12.4 per game coming off of a 19.6 average last year.  He's shooting better than he was last season but he's not getting near the number of attempts.  Ginobili is shooting a career-low 39% and is scoring 12.9 per game, down 2.6 from the previous season and 6.6 from two years ago.  Michael Finley has been injured and is a non-entity outside of stroking the occasional three.  The Spurs have some big names playing pretty small.  On the other hand reserve point guard George Hill has had a fine season offensively.  Rookie Blair has been a terror on the boards as has McDyess.  In short the top and bottom of the rotation are solid but the middle is sagging.

For all of the changes and evolutions the Spurs still play as a team.  They pass the ball, gang rebound, distribute shots, and field 10 guys averaging 18 or more minutes per game.  They're not a team to give the win to you.  You have to beat them legitimately in order to take it.  They've been here and done this before and have playoff runs and rings to show for it.

Keys to the Game

1.  This is the classic EFT game:  Energy, Focus, Toughness.  Even depleted the Blazers have the talent to take these guys at home, especially with Parker on the fritz or just coming back.  But they'll have to hustle.  They'll have to execute plays and not get caught heaving desperation bombs against the shot clock because San Antonio won't let you have a second chance.  They will also have to stand up to the Spurs.  San Antonio isn't exactly Denver.  They're not going to out-and-out beat you up.  But Richard Jefferson and Tim Duncan have been around for a while.  They know how to use their bodies.  Jefferson at least knows how to use his meanly.  McDyess won't let you have a free lunch either.  When the Spurs push the Blazers at least have to not back down.  At best they'd push back a little.

2.  The Spurs rebound well as a team.  The Blazers need to do the same.

3.  If Parker plays don't let him run.  He's bad enough in a measured game but if he's breaking he'll score 28 with 10 assists and we'll lose.

4.  LaMarcus usually accepts the challenge against Duncan and LMA has had a couple of nice games lately.  If LMA can match Duncan's output the rest of the team has a reasonable chance of outscoring their collective counterparts.

5.  Push every chance you get.  Make the older, slower Spurs commit to getting back on you just like you have to on Parker.

6.  Life would be better if Brandon would come back.

Final Thoughts

I'm not as confident as usual about the game against the L*kers this weekend, home court or no.  That means this would be a nice win to get.  It turns an L.A. loss into a non-issue and a win against L.A. into a tangible gain.

Check out the San Antonio culture at PoundingtheRock

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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