If you're an NBA fan, it's hard not to have the utmost respect for the San Antonio Spurs. They just seem to do things right and they've been handsomely rewarded with multiple NBA championships. There are a couple of things that San Antonio does that most other teams do not which I think are the likely keys to their success. And I think Portland could emulate the Spurs on these two points:
(1) Balance the bench with the starting unit - After watching Manu Ginobili come off the bench to torch the Blazers for 18 points late in the third period it occurred to me that the Blazers could do the same with Wes Mathews. Imagine if Wes played the final eight minutes of every quarter - about 32 minutes per game. Obviously he would have a lot of overlap with the starting unit and be on the floor at the end of the game; but more than that, he would be the unquestioned go-to guy on the second unit. That is something we do not have at all right now. The guy can drain the three, post up, drive to the hoop, and play defense. Truly it wouldn't surprise me greatly if he couldn't lead the team in scoring if he came off the bench with fresh legs. Having Wes come off the bench would give that second unit a consistent identity and a strong offensive presence while still leaving three strong scorers in the starting lineup. Hopefully Wes would look at the opportunity for more shots as being a loud statement of confidence in his game rather than any kind of demotion by not being in the starting line-up. I say we let Wes be our new Manu!!
(2) Treat the season as a marathon not a sprint - The guy playing the most minutes per game for the Spurs is Tony Parker. He ranks #72 in the league! #72!!!! There are four Blazers playing more than that, Lamarcus, Nicolas, Wes, and Damian. How much are those guys going to have left in the tank come April?? In my opinion, the single biggest threat to the Blazers advancing deep into the playoffs at this point is injury - an injury most likely from playing too many minutes. And if injury doesn't take the Blazers down, fatigue most likely will. It needs to be priority number one to get the minutes down for our starting unit and in the process to build experience for the bench. While that might cost us a few games, is that really such a big deal? Even if it costs us home court advantage in the playoffs, I would still much rather see Aldridge, Batum, Wes, Robin, and Nic closer to 32 minutes per game. And if Stotts starts getting guys like Thomas Robinson, CJ McCollum, Joel Freeland, and Meyers Leonard 18 minutes a game, we will really know what we have on the bench come April, and those guys will have enough experience to make something of an impact too. But it needs to start now!!