Out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Blazers face last year’s runners-up to the league crown on opening night and get the team that’s won 50 billion titles in the modern NBA era for their home opener. As Gollum would say, “Nasssty…nasssty ssschedule makerssss. Hisss. Evils they are. Gollum. Gollum.” But until poor Smeagol leads the Blazers through the stairs of November, down the pass of early December, and into the new year this is what we’re going to have to deal with.
But chin up, Blazer fans! Casey Holdahl predicted a win for the Blazers in this week's podcast and I can tell you from experience that Casey is only wrong about 50% of the time. If that isn’t enough of a guarantee for you, there are reasons to believe
A Look at the Spurs
Defense has been the hallmark of the Spurs during their championship years and even now that they’re getting long in the tooth it’s still plenty good. They finished last season third in opponent scoring and fifth in opposing field goal percentage. As long as you have a reasonably mobile Tim Duncan on your team you’re going to be OK defensively. Bruce Bowen playing beside him is the icing on the cake. Pretty much you can expect Bowen to single-cover your best wing scorer and Duncan to bother anyone coming in the lane, leaving three other Spurs to harry any second or third option you might devise.
The other thing that makes the Spurs tough is that they just don’t beat themselves very often. They seldom turn the ball over. They almost never take poor shots. They don’t give up unnecessary rebounds. They get back in transition. If you’re looking to put pressure on them and make them crack you can forget it. The only way to overcome them with regularity is to put a talented, passionate team out there and hope your energy can overcome their efficiency. That seldom happens. In a league which values professional basketball these guys are professional to the core.
That said, this will not be as tough of a matchup for the Blazers as the L*kers were. For one thing the motivation runs the other way tonight. This is the Blazers’ home opener. After being obliterated on Tuesday
For one thing,
Though good defenders, the Spurs don’t force turnovers. They don’t block shots or steal the ball. In other words, though they’re not going to cough up the game themselves they don’t make you do it either. They’re reminiscent of the Revolutionary War redcoats. Let’s both get in a line, fire at each other, and see who comes out ahead. Most of the ways the Blazers are prone to blow the game are ways the Spurs don’t take advantage of. I’m not trying to guild the lily here. If the Blazers go out there and bork it the Spurs are going to take the game away and never look back. They’ve seen far too many games not to know a free gift when they see it. But if the Blazers execute well the Spurs aren’t the kind of team to get in their heads and make them blow it.
Perhaps the biggest boon to
Storylines to Watch
1. Star Light, Star Bright
This game is all about the return of Lamarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Aldridge had a sub-par game in
2. The Rudy-Roy Shuffle
With Martell Webster out, Travis looking good but fitting like your high school jeans, and questions surrounding the Blazers’ backup point guard position you suddenly have cracks that Rudy Fernandez is primed to fill. The question is: which cracks, when, and with whom? Obviously in this situation Rudy and Roy have to get some minutes together. It will be interesting to see how Nate manages that.
3. Welcome Back Channing Frye!
Oden’s down, Channing’s up. He may actually be an interesting matchup for the Spurs. His weakness is post defense but if he’s defending Kurt Thomas or Matt Bonner that’s not a concern. On the other end he could pull some Spurs out of the lane with his mid-range shooting ability. He could conceivably see a lot of minutes at the 4-spot in this game. Will he take advantage?
4. What’s the Point?
We had a switcheroo of sorts on Tuesday with Steve Blake only getting 24 minutes, Sergio Rodriguez 5, and Bayless 15. Will that pattern continue? Are any of these guys the point guard we need right now? This will be one of the more interesting storylines for the first two months of the season.
5. Old King Joel
Well, well, well…look who’s come crawling back. “You’ve always been good to us, Joel. You stuck with us through the hard times…” they said. “We really do like you, Joel. But more like a ‘brotherly backup’ than a ‘sexy starter’…” they said. “Yes, there’s a new guy, Joel. But we still want to be friends! We don’t know what we’d do without your rebounding. It’s not you, Joel, it’s us…” they said. One sprained foot later and it’s, “Ding Dong! Uh…Joel honey?” Guess who’s renting a limo and driving us to the prom? There’s no doubt Przybilla will respond like the trooper he is. The dinner will be great, he’ll dance just fine, and he won’t even get mad when we don’t let him cop a feel during “Have I Told You Lately”. He’ll also be the hero guarding Tim Duncan so Lamarcus Aldridge can rest up for the offensive end. But will it be enough? These offensive sets were designed for a semi-legitimate threat in the middle. Joel is not exactly semi-legitimate. The Blazers are going to have to move and shoot a lot better to compensate, and this against a team that is playing them to do just that. How many rebounds and defensive stops will Joel need in order to even things out? Also can he stay out of foul trouble and on the floor?
Keys to the Game
1. If the Blazers get two 20-point scorers plus 8-10 fast break points they will win this game. Scoring is important. You don’t want to play
2. The Blazers have to put pressure on the
3. Remember that 30-30-40 construct for
4. One key for teams that are going to have trouble scoring is not to give them any extra points. Fortunately the foul line is not a big production point for the Spurs, nor is forcing turnovers. The place the Blazers might be vulnerable is allowing
5. We need to hit some three pointers tonight but they need to be well-thought, open, and mostly off of other people’s penetration and kick-outs. Despite being a good three-point shooting team the Blazers make me nervous when that becomes Option 1 off of the dribble. I get doubly nervous when our forwards start hoisting like that. (Hello Travis and Channing.) That’s a sure way to give
You all saw how much good my caution/pep talk did before the first game, but I’m going to try it again. Remember this Blazer lineup is missing two of the five people slated to start the season. Remember the Blazers are playing against accomplished, proven playoff teams. Remember that it’s very early in the season and
Check out the Spurs’ Point of View