Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers land in San Antonio today to take on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Spurs, a team that's won nine of its last 10 games. Can Portland improve its defense enough to put a halt to San Antonio's winning ways?

Friday, January 17
AT&T Center; San Antonio, TX | 5:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: N/A | Out for the Spurs: Tony Parker (questionable), Danny Green, Tiago Splitter

The Blazers kick off a difficult four-game road trip tonight in San Antonio against the Spurs, owners of the best record in the Western Conference.


The Spurs are 9-1 in their last 10 games, with the only loss in that span coming to the Knicks a couple weeks ago.

San Antonio point guard Tony Parker is playing as well as ever, hitting 55.1 percent of his field-goals, dishing almost 8 assists and averaging over 20 points per game with almost six free-throws a night. Parker's outside shooting ability is nonexistent, but he makes up for it by getting to the rim, where he's an elite finisher. Parker is also excellent in the mid-range and creative in finding teammates. Portland guards Damian Lillard and Mo Williams -- if recent history is any indication -- will likely have a difficult time keeping Parker in front of them. Fortunately, his range is limited.

Forward Tim Duncan still loves that extended jumper, but it's not quite as accurate this season as it's been in the past. Closer to the hoop, though, Duncan attempts half his shots and he's one of the best in the NBA at converting them. He's also getting to the free-throw line, supplementing his scoring. You should be able to count on about a dozen attempts for Duncan tonight, with over half of them likely to go in.

Marco Belinelli, sixth-man guard off the bench for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, is having one of the league's best recent stretches shooting the ball. Belinelli's connecting on over half his total field-goals and is converting three-pointers with the same accuracy, good for about 15 points a night.

Forward Kawhi Leonard is perhaps the best shooter for the Spurs right now, boasting a 63 percent field-goal percentage in his last five games to complement his 50 percent three-point shooting percentage. Leonard can hit jumpers all day with the best of them, efficient within the arc. His main talent, however, is getting to the rim and finishing, where he's remarkable at scoring.

Forward Matt Bonner, point guard Patty Mills and guard Cory Joseph are all accurate shooters from downtown. In limited time, forward Jeff Ayres -- formerly Jeff Pendergraph -- is hitting some shots, as is forward Boris Diaw. Popovich's only rotational player right now who's not shooting the ball well is guard Manu Ginobili. Still, he draws five fouls a night so he's been able to slightly mask what's proven to be a difficult year shooting the ball for him so far.

The Spurs are intimidating on the defensive glass, but not on their end of the court. Duncan is San Antonio's best rebounder right now, followed by Ayres and Leonard. The match-up on the boards tonight should be interesting, as both teams are great offensive rebounders but average or worse on the defensive side. Portland frontcourt rebounders LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland are all aggressive on the glass and should be able to put up a good showing tonight against the Spurs.

When the two teams met in an early-November win for the Blazers, Portland edged San Antonio on the glass 39-35 and limited Duncan to just 7 boards in 31 minutes. Ayres has come on much stronger since, but if Duncan can be held in check, the Blazers have an opportunity tonight to control the glass. The second-chance scoring provided by the hustle of Lopez, Freeland, Robinson and forward Nicolas Batum on the offensive end provides a solid source of points for Portland and extends possessions, which is important against a team like San Antonio that is doing so well with the ball in its hands right now.

The Blazers have been playing some excellent basketball lately when they're on offense. Lopez is the most accurate shooter on the team right now, hitting over half of his field-goals, many coming off tip-ins, second-chance baskets and when he's left open near the hoop or at the free-throw line. Aldridge has improved his shooting recently, attempting 23 shots, hitting half of them and also drawing six fouls a game. He's averaging almost 30 points a contest in his last five, most of his shots coming in the mid-range from his nearly un-blockable jumper.

Lillard, Batum, Williams and guard Wesley Matthews are all struggling from the field right now, none of them hitting above 41 percent on their field goals in recent weeks. Matthews and Batum are terrible from the perimeter at the moment, with Williams hitting a respectable 37 percent of his threes. Lillard has come back to Earth a bit since his recent stretch of 50 percent shooting from outside, cooling off to about 41 percent, still a solid mark for an NBA point guard. Every other Blazer besides Williams and Lillard has seen his three-point stroke falter lately. Are teams figuring out how to stop Portland's deep-shooting attack, or are the Blazers just going through a slight lull from behind the arc? Currently, they're hitting about 6 percent less of their outside shot attempts than they have on the season, so it's worth watching tonight as the Spurs can be forgiving from the perimeter.

Robinson has played pretty well off the bench lately, at least when he keeps himself within the flow of the offense and stays focused on rebounding and on defense. We'll see if Robinson regresses back to his slightly-out-of-control normal self, or if a consistent effort is what Blazers fans can expect from him on a nightly basis from here on out.

Rookie guard C.J. McCollum has played pretty solidly off the bench in a couple games since returning from injury, hitting half his shots and showing his ability to score and create offense for himself. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to set up his teammates very well yet and he hasn't played well as the team's primary ballhandler on offense. It remains to be seen if he can play some point guard at the NBA-level, as it appears that for now he's probably better suited to play off the ball.

Center Meyers Leonard and wings Dorell Wright and Will Barton have all pulled disappearing-reappearing acts from Portland coach Terry Stotts' rotation lately. The recent -- and relative -- success of Robinson and McCollum probably pushes at least two of these guys out of the rotation, if not all three. It's hard to say what will happen with the lineup down the stretch, as Stotts has been a bit vague when asked how he plans to use his bench, responding that he'd continue to use specific players situationally.

Portland's defense is going to be tested every night on this four-game road trip, and especially tonight as Popovich's offense continues humming along. Who will win the backcourt match-up? Both Parker and Lillard are playing very well right now, with Parker having a huge edge with his finishing ability and Lillard having a huge edge with his outside-shooting ability.

San Antonio has come close to matching the Blazers' recent offensive output, but they've been playing much better defense. Still, Portland probably has the advantage on the glass. Tonight's game has the feel that it could go either way, but the Blazers will really have to play at the top of their game -- on both ends of the court -- to steal a road win from the Spurs tonight, winners of 15 of 21 home games so far this year and nine of their last 10 games overall.

-- Chris Lucia | bedgecast@gmail.com | Twitter

P.S. Check out the latest episode of the Blazer's Edge Podcast HERE, uploaded today!

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