After spoiling the fun for the Nuggets in their home-opener, the Blazers come back to Portland to face off with the San Antonio Spurs, a team coming off a road win of their own against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Big man Tim Duncan missed last night's game following a minor chest injury sustained against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night. His status is questionable and it may be a game time decision as to whether or not Duncan plays tonight against the Blazers.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker will be on hand, fresh off a 24-point performance in the win against the Lakers. The early season barrage of quick, slashing point guards never ends, does it? After Damian Lillard matched up with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix followed by Ty Lawson in Denver, Parker now comes into town as the most polished of the bunch, certainly ready to take advantage of the Blazers' soft perimeter and paint defense.
Parker is an average outside shooter at best, but he gets to the rim as well as any point guard in the league. From there he can make a play for an open teammate or finish it himself. He's played both roles well so far this season, and Portland's defense will need to make life difficult for Parker if the Blazers want a much easier path to victory.
Outside of Parker, the Spurs have plenty of legitimate offensive firepower: guards Manu Ginobilli, Marco Bellinelli and Danny Green to go along with forwards Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, who may replace Duncan in the starting lineup.
Each one of those guys is a threat to light it up from outside, with Bonner and Green being the most accurate snipers of the bunch. Bonner's and Diaw's floor-stretching from the power forward position will likely pull LaMarcus Aldridge further outside defensively, making Robin Lopez' and Joel Freeland's jobs locking down the key that much more difficult.
But the Blazers showed Friday night they can open up the court with the best of them, as Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright all took turns draining three-pointers while Aldridge took care of the mid-range. The Spurs will bring a much more cohesive defense, though.
San Antonio center Tiago Splitter watches over the middle effectively, while Leonard stalks the opposing team's best wing. Green is also no slouch on defense. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will have his guys playing solid team defense once again, with or without Duncan.
LaMarcus Aldridge should again look to get himself going the way he has so far this season, because he has an advantage over any defender Popovich sends his way, especially Bonner. Power forwards Aron Baynes and Jeff Ayres will also get court time. Blazers coach Terry Stotts will probably take advantage of Aldridge's match ups as often as possible, as there's really no one on the Spurs bench who has a promising shot of individually stopping the All-Star power forward.
Lillard should be able to break down Parker off the dribble, but both the perimeter and paint defense of the Spurs should prove less forgiving than those of the Suns and the Nuggets. Wide open shots will be much more challenging to come by for Portland's outside shooters. Lillard may try to get more teammates involved again as he did last night with his 7 assists.
It looks like Stotts is evidently resigned to running with a short bench unit with heavy doses of Mo Williams and Freeland. Wright and power forward Thomas Robinson have played about a dozen minutes a night. After them, that's pretty much it. On the second half of a back-to-back, Stotts might go a little deeper onto his bench, though the Blazers' third unit has seen no meaningful game time so far. It will be interesting to see if Stotts sticks with his early season rotation or if he gives them more of a breather.
Popovich has a deep bench and he's not afraid to use it, particularly when his veterans need some rest and in back-to-back situations. He's not going to shut anyone down for the third game of the season, but don't be surprised if 11 or 12 Spurs see some legitimate playing time tonight. That's doubly so if Duncan misses the game.
Keep an eye on Lopez as he tries to alter shots at the rim. While he held it down against Denver nicely, he's had a hard time limiting his fouls so far, and San Antonio's well-coached, veteran squad will look to exploit him when he's the last line of defense for the Blazers. You may see a little more of Freeland than usual, as he's been as equally effective at rebounding as Lopez and has looked surprisingly composed as of late in extended minutes.
If the Blazers want to give the fans a win in the home debut, Lillard and Aldridge will have to be as sharp as they have been the first two games. On top of that, guys like Batum, Matthews and Williams will have to be major contributors as well.
San Antonio has the talent from top-to-bottom and the coaching to keep fresh legs in the game with continuity and with not much drop off. Portland will have to get contributions from its stars and see a group effort like the one on display in Denver last night. The defense and rebounding, again, will have to see some improvement too, because the Spurs are not going to be very forgiving in those areas.
It's going to take an inspired effort from everybody, but hey, it's the home-opener, the Blazers are coming off a solid road win and they seem to cause the Spurs trouble when playing in Portland. All things considered, this game should be competitive and Portland has a real shot to steal one from the 2-0 Spurs and kick off an early three-game home stand with a win.