Game Time: 5:30 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
Tonight's matchups feature two teams doing well in the New Western Conference. Portland sits at 7-3, San Antonio at 7-4. The Spurs' losses have at least one commonality: all have happened on the road. Two of Portland's three losses have also come on the road. Since San Antonio is the home team tonight Portland will have to overcome at two trends to find a victory.
The big development for San Antonio is the loss of Manu Ginobili who is out several weeks recovering from hand surgery. Ginobili has been the Spurs' leading scorer at 17 per game, a designation made more impressive by his relative lack of minutes at 23 per. San Antonio stars Tony Parker and Tim Duncan aren't scoring that much in 30+ mpg. Parker is doing fine at 15.5 and 7 assists per game but his shooting percentage has been questionable compared to his norm. The Spurs aren't getting a ton of fast break points so his only easy scores are coming from the foul line. Having Ginobili out doesn't help in freeing him up. Helping even less is the continuing decline of Tim Duncan. He's playing 26.5 minutes per game and averaging 12 points and 6 boards. His shooting percentage is down to 45%, barely higher than Parker's 44%. This is like watching Renoir paint those big-head portraits at your county fair. I mean, they're cool and you'll hang it on your wall with pride, but we're used to seeing museum-quality work from the guy. This is not that Tim Duncan.
So how are the Spurs riding high at 7-4 with one star out, one star at half of his old self, and one star looking so-so compared to his peak? They're dang smart, that's how. They're smart enough to get the right shots for all of their second-unit guys, making the team look deep. They're smart enough to run the most efficient offense in the NBA. They're 2nd in the league in three-point percentage, 7th in overall shooting percentage. They're 3rd overall in points per game. That's normally an iffy stat because it's pace- and style-dependent but guess what? They're 20th in the league in possessions per game. That's huge. By comparison Portland is 4th in points per game but also 3rd in possessions per game. San Antonio's 100 points come in far different fashion than Portland's 100 points.
Unsurprisingly the Spurs rank highly in assists and take great care of the ball.
If there's a breakdown in the Spurs' machine, it's on defense. San Antonio allows points, points in the paint, fast break points, and high percentages from both the field and three-point line. They're not the intimidating defensive squad they once were, much of that attributable to Duncan's aging.
The Blazers have to watch out for a few things in this game. Parker has long been an issue for them but this year's squad should be better able to deal with him. Duncan and Aldridge have always been a good matchup. Portland probably won't have to sweat them as much as San Antonio's three-point shooters: Richard Jefferson (on fire right now), Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Daniel Green. The Blazers will also have to worry about rebounding with Duncan, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter on the other side. The counter to this, though I'm not sure it's the vehicle to get Portland playing right as much as a symptom that they are playing right, is the quick tempo. Portland only needs to defend and rebound well enough to get running. With injuries the Spurs are thin, especially at guard. If Portland can force the pace their athleticism will start to tell. If the Spurs are tired those shots and rebounds will be more difficult and mistakes more easy. As with the last game, you don't want to play a slow, turn-based strategy against this team. Real-time-strategy all the way. Loop your players with the cursor, click on the other end of the court, and go.
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