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Game 57 Preview: Blazers vs. Spurs

Oh joy.  After facing Houston last night we now draw another playoff-bound team who owes us one for squeaking out a tenuous win over them very early in the season.  Look, it was an accident, OK?  Here, take our lunch money.  Just please don't hurt us.

A Look at the Spurs

Since stumbling to a 1-4 start the Spurs have gone on a 37-13 run, winning against pretty much every good team in the league in the process.  Get this.  They played Dallas last night and sat Tim Duncan because of tenderness in the knee.  They're already without Manu Ginobili.  Tony Parker scored 37 and dished 12 assists and they plastered the Mavericks 93-76.  That's naughty.  But that's the way the Spurs are rolling.

How are they doing it?  First they control the ball.  They're the best defensive rebounding team in the league and second best in turnovers.  They guard that thing jealously and don't let you get easy points.  They're good percentage scorers and excellent three-point shooters.  You can't keep them from getting the ball and when they get it they have a good chance of scoring with it.  They'll take the break if you give it to them but are supremely comfortable in the halfcourt as well.

The Spurs rank fourth in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) and their defense, if not quite as tight as it was when they were in their prime, can still shut most teams out.

If the Spurs are going to lose it's probably because one or both of their stars is having an off night and nobody steps up.  Either that or the opponent simply runs away on the scoreboard.  Since both the Spurs and Blazers play at a slow pace the latter isn't likely.  Portland will have to hope for the former tonight.

Tim Duncan is averaging a double-double again this year, with 20.7 points and 10.7 rebounds.  Parker is at 20-even with 6.5 assists.  Both shoot well and both have gone for huge games.  With Ginobili out the next biggest name is Michael Finley but he seems to be running on fumes career-wise.  He's still a good shooter and he often annoys the Blazers but he's not the scorer of old.  Roger Mason Jr.--a 6'5" shooting guard who uncorked on the Blazers in November and made everybody say, "Who?!?"--has scored 20+  in 2 of the Spurs' last 3 games.  Center Matt Bonner has topped 20 twice this month.  Bruce Bowen is still around and can still hit that corner three if you leave him open.  The Spurs have a lot of decent, veteran guys playing between 10 and 20 minutes per game, including our old friend Ime Udoka.  You always think you're going to make hay against their reserves but then they play better than you expected.  Either that or Pops just scowls and brings Duncan and Parker back in.

Keys to the Game

I'm assuming Duncan will play tonight.  If he doesn't I think you have a chance at winning this game conventionally.  But then Dallas probably thought that too.  And Denver earlier in the season.

There's really only one key to this one.  You're not going to out-execute the Spurs.  You probably won't outrebound them.  It'll be hard to outshoot them.  The Blazers just need to take this game with overwhelming energy.  Starters and bench guys alike have to attack.  There's no Twin Towers in there anymore to block shots so get in the lane and draw fouls.  Dive for loose balls, keep your feet in motion on defense, and bring ten swarming guys into the game against their two cool customers.  Portland has done a decent job of getting under Duncan's skin in years past with exactly this tactic.  When he's frustrated he doesn't play as well.  When he doesn't play as well the Spurs are weaker.  It used to be the Blazers could only dream of a win in San Antonio.  Both we and the Spurs are at the point where that dream could become a reality.  But we have to want it more and then go out and take it with our play.  Without that extra hustle from everybody who steps on the court we're not going to win.  I know we've said this at least once before:  youth can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage.  Use it.

See what San Antonio is saying at PoundingtheRock. 

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest right here. 

--Dave (