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Game 1 Preview: Blazers at Spurs

The day has finally arrived.  Welcome to the 2007-08 NBA Season.

For those who haven't been with us since last season we do a preview and recap of every Blazer game of the season.  I'm excited to be starting these again!  (Ask me how I'm feeling around Game 53 or so...)

Fortunately the first preview is an easy one...

A Look at the Spurs

The summary of the San Antonio Spurs almost writes itself.  Everybody knows them.  Everybody knows how devastating they can be.  They are the reigning World Champions and have won three of the last five titles.  Last year they were first in the league in point differential, third in field goal percentage, and fourth in opposing field goal percentage.  They are an excellent rebounding team, they take good care of the ball, and they can score from all positions on the floor.  If they want to score inside they just give it to Tim Duncan.  If you pack it in to try and stop him five out of their top six rotation players shoot 36% or better from beyond the arc.  If you want to run Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will toast your biscuits.  And as much of a threat as they are on offense, they still win with their suffocating defense.  Simply put, this team has fewer overt weaknesses than anybody in the league.  They are near impossible to exploit.

For all that, the Spurs are not invincible in the style of the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman Bulls of the 90's.  They have a tendency to lose focus during the regular season, especially in their "off" years.  They don't have the kind of explosive attack to be able to turn it on and off like many elite teams.  When the ship starts sinking it doesn't resurface.  You never know when their off nights will be, but when you hit them you have a chance.

Despite the plethora of wing players and shooters the key to the Spurs is still Tim Duncan.  16 of San Antonio's 24 losses last year came when he attempted 16 or fewer shots.  If you can take him out of the game either by making him give the ball up or by fouling him and making him hit charity tosses (not a strength) you have a chance.

Also you have to come to peace with the fact that you're not going to outscore the Spurs and beat them.  You do need to take advantage of every opportunity to run that you get but you can't expect to score 120 on them.  20 of their 24 losses came when they scored 100 points or fewer.  Their defense is far less vulnerable than their offense.

The general game plan is to make life tough on Duncan, to get back on defense quickly so the guards don't burn you with easy transition points, and then hope that their perimeter players are having an off night.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  The unselfish tendencies we saw during the pre-season must continue tonight if we're to have any chance at respectability.  Anyone who takes it into the teeth of the Spurs defense without the ball moving around first is going to get stuffed.  This is true even of Lamarcus and Brandon.  I know Lamarcus has this game circled on his calendar because it's the first of his new era and because it's against Tim Duncan, who plays at a level Aldridge himself would like to achieve.  But if this becomes a one-on-one drill we'll be lucky to score in the high eighties.
  2.  Our small guys must, must, MUST get back.  Transition defense will be critical from the tip to the final horn.  Tell me if this sounds familiar to you.  "!  We're actually playing the Spurs pretty well!  We're up four midway through the third quarter!  Ooops!  Here comes Parker and...oh well.  Maybe we'll get it back on...oh no...there goes Ginobili.  OK, we've got to do better at...there's Manu again!  And Parker!  Et tu Brent Barry? they're just making us look silly."
  3.  I don't think we have much of a chance to actually win unless San Antonio really mails it in after the ring ceremony, but if we ARE going to have a chance to win Martell Webster could well be the guy who makes the difference.  Great games by Brandon and Lamarcus might be enough to keep us in it, but somebody else is going to have to put us over the top.  Martell's distance shooting would not only ring up points quickly, it would spread the defense and open up the middle for the main guys.
  4.  Joel Przybilla, Lamarcus, and Travis are going to have to rotate quickly to cover the middle without picking up fouls because Tony Parker is going to try to eat the much slower Jarrett Jack's lunch on the drive.  Come to think of it he'll also do that with Blake.  And Sergio.  (He'll just take a dribble and pop it over Taurean if we ever see him.)  Of course following their rotations the rest of the team will have to compensate.
  5.  By the way, I hope our man-to-man defense is up to snuff tonight.  Though we'll be tempted to throw in a zone to shut down Duncan in the long run San Antonio is going to bomb the heck out of it.  Yes, we want them to bomb away (the poison we'd pick) but we have to get a hand in their faces while we're doing it.
  6.  We really need to hit a high percentage tonight because we're probably going to get slaughtered on the boards.  We need the good shooting because we won't get a lot of second chances.
A note:  This game evoked a lot of emotional energy from Blazer fans in the off-season.  Not only was it the first game of the year, the story was perfect:  new-era, young lions testing their chops against the grizzled veteran champions.  I imagine a lot of that energy (and storyline) subsided the minute Greg Oden was wheeled out of the operating room.  Certainly the Jersey Contest predictions seem to indicate a semi-pessimistic outlook on our chances of winning.  Still, there's temptation to make this game mean more than it does.  I already know as soon as the ball goes in the air I'm going to forget all that and get really emotionally bound up in the game, wanting a win badly. And I'll be cheering as loudly as anyone if we pull it off.  In the greater scheme of things, though, this is one of those games that means little.  We won't be expected to win.  It will be a feather in our caps, and maybe a confidence boost, even to stay close.  But even if we get a victory it will say a lot more about where San Antonio was tonight than where we are.  Straight up, win or lose, there is no way we're even close to being as good as this team is right now.  (Look closely anyway, because this is exactly where we want to be in another 2-3 years:  predictably great.)  Remember, this is not game 1 of 82.  This is game 1 of around 332 in a long, hopefully exciting, process of evolution.

--Dave (

P.S.  If you get a chance this year check out our sister sites for their impressions of games.  In this case it's Pounding the Rock.  All of them are listed in the right sidebar.