Nursing wounds from their last two losses, the Portland Trail Blazers face the San Antonio Spurs in the Rose Garden at 7:00 p.m. This continues a murderer's row of opponents for the Blazers. After tonight they will have faced 5 of the top 7 teams in the Western Conference last season in their first 6 games. The game will be televised locally on KGW TV.
Though the Spurs certainly rank among the contenders for the conference crown and are off to an impressive 4-1 start, the Blazers have reasons for hope tonight. These include:
1. The Spurs go small in the middle. Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner are accomplished players but they're not true centers. Tiago Splitter is the only guy J.J. Hickson will need to watch out for, and Hickson doesn't give up that much size even in that matchup. There will be less pressure on Hickson defensively, hopefully allowing him to up his rebounding and offensive game.
2. The Spurs go slow. This is anathema to Portland's style, of course, but that means the Blazers have a chance of breaking out on them and disrupting the game. Against the Clippers and Dallas, Portland was stuck against "anything you can do, we can do better" opponents. If the Blazers up the tempo and run up the score on the Spurs, San Antonio might have a hard time responding.
3. The Spurs are..old? It's early in the season but they are on the second night of a back-to-back.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge has played better and better against Tim Duncan as the years have rolled along. Being younger, quicker, and a better scorer at this point, LMA has a chance to bend this game.
5. The Spurs still defend really well but they don't rebound that well. They've never been big on offensive rebounds which should allow the Blazers opportunities to leak out.
6. The Spurs have young talent but the Blazers have young defenders to stack against Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews don't have to dominate those matchups. Equal or a slight edge would work fine. It's not a certainty, but it's doable.
The caveat here is that the Spurs know how to win, expect to win, and will have no mercy on you. If the Blazers hand over opportunities--say, turning over the ball, abandoning the boards, or being content with walking up the ball for slowly lofted jumpers--San Antonio will take that "W" to the bank laughing all the way. In order for Portland's game to have a chance of beating San Antonio's game the Blazers have to actually play their game and play it well.
The other super-fascinating matchup will be Damian Lillard versus Tony Parker. Either should be able to score on the other but the experience edge runs heavily towards Parker. Tony has played 30 times more playoff games than Damian has played games total. Lillard will need to take care of the ball, get back on defense, and not lose confidence if a couple shots go astray. Portland can't have this matchup turn into a blowout for San Antonio, nor can they rely on Batum to inhibit Parker the way he did Chris Paul on Thursday night. Lillard will need help but he has to give more than the old college try to make this work.
As severe as the last two losses were, anyone down about them can take heart tonight. This will be a decent matchup for the Blazers, particularly at home. There are no guarantees with this team, but there's more than a distant chance this could turn into a win for Portland.
If the Blazers do lose another rough game, watch their body language. This team will have plenty of opportunities to crumble during the year. Losing three straight in rough fashion could provide the first. But even more than that, watch if the Blazers can execute against a good defense populated by players who want Portland out of its usual style. The door will be open at some point tonight. It's up to the Blazers to bust their way through it.
Pounding The Rock will have the San Antonio preview.
Portland Trail Blazer tickets for all upcoming games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.