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Game 61 Preview: Spurs vs. Blazers

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A Look at the Spurs

After their narrow playoff defeat last season a lot of people wrote the Spurs off as a relic whose time was passing.  Not me.  Great defense and teamwork never goes obsolete.  In fact when asked before the season who was going to win it all, my money (had I put any up) was on San Antonio.  Now they've won nine straight and people are starting to get back on the bandwagon.  I don't know if they'll be able to get past Dallas and Phoenix, but I know those series would be viewed with trepidation by either of those teams, which should tell you all you need to know about our chances tonight.

It's so easy to take Tim Duncan for granted because he goes about his business so consistently and quietly.  But he probably gives his team the most meaningful 20 and 10 (plus 3 assists and 2 blocks) per night of any player in the league.  He anchors the third best team defense (by percentage) in the league.  He's the main rebounder on the second best defensive rebounding team (by percentage) in the league.  He captains the team with the best point overall differential.  And there is nobody else in that frontcourt along with him.  He does it all on his own down there.  He is THE MAN and has continued to be despite all of his flashier colleagues around the league who get more press.

Tony Parker continues to have a career season.  His 18.7 points per game are not nearly as impressive as his 52%+ shooting average (including 44% from the three point line).  Manu Ginobili is also an impressive scorer.  Parker has been out the last couple of games with a hip injury and may not play tonight. That would be a blessing for the Blazers if it happened. The Spurs' three-pronged attack doesn't look like it should work as well as it does but that team is so clockwork regular night after night that it's hard to find a seam to exploit.

Defense is the Spurs' main calling card.  They'll stop you inside, stop you outside, stop you from passing the ball, block your shot, steal the ball...you name it, they'll do it.  You can get shots against them, but they're not going to be open.  On offense they rely on smart shots rather than spectacular individual plays, though they are a good outside shooting team and will burn you happily the first time you leave them open.  Parker and Ginobili have been particular nuisances on the break against the Blazers in recent years.  Running is not the Spurs' M.O. but they're not going to turn down easy shots if you give them.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  If we're going to have any chance at hanging close, this is going to have to be a spectacular game for Lamarcus Aldridge.  They're going to lock down on Zach but that's going to leave Lamarcus at worst one-on-one with somebody.  He needs to be aggressive, shoot smartly and well, and help us beat the Spurs down the court before their defense can set up.
  2.  Tony Parker is a big, big problem if he plays.  Jarrett Jack will have real trouble handling his speed.  The best thing to say is that our point guard combined have got to equal his output for us to hang close.  If Jack, Sergio and company allow Parker 22 they better get 22 back themselves, and just as efficiently as he does. If Parker doesn't play let Beno Udrih and Jacque Vaughn shoot all...they...want.
  3.  Defending the long ball is another serious challenge for us in this contest.  We're going to have to pay big attention to Duncan, which will probably leave us scrambling outside.  Parker, Ginobili, Finley, Barry, Bowen, Bonner, Eric Williams...these guys are all legitimately scary from deep if you don't bother them.  We have to find a way to harass Duncan which doesn't involve leaving people free.  Our mid-size guys--Travis, Martell, Ime--are going to have to be very quick helping and recovering.
  4.  Obviously the farther out we go on the court the less their defense is going to seem to bother us, but we cannot get stuck just shooting long ourselves.  We may keep up for a quarter on threes but for the game that will kill us.  Like we just said they're a great defensive rebounding team and they will run if given the chance.  It's unlikely we'll get a lot of finishes at the hoop but driving, drawing the defense, and then dishing to Travis or Lamarcus for a mid-range jumper or Martell or Ime for an open, in rhythm three is probably our best shot.
  5.  If by some miracle the game is tight late, you can foul Duncan.
  6.  Seasoned, reasonable vets seldom like to be challenged by hyper-energetic youthful puppy teams.  Often when they are they don't turn it on until late...and sometimes that's too late.  Spastic youthfulness is the word of the day for us...a fist-pumping, floor-diving, shaking, baking from-the-heart game is the only shot we've got.  It's a thin one, but then again how many times do you see teams on long streaks lose it in unexpected ways?  This would probably be the fairy tale win of the year for the Blazers if it happened.
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)