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Game 78 Preview: Blazers vs. Spurs

A Look at the Spurs

From a strictly production standpoint, to know Tony Parker and Tim Duncan is to know the Spurs.  Parker averages 22 points per game,  Duncan near 20.  Parker adds 7 assists, Duncan 10.5 rebounds.  Both shoot over 50% from the field.  Both draw fouls.  Both are capable of producing well beyond their averages when they smell blood in the water.  Both are carrying a team that otherwise has talent issues to 50+ wins.

The loss of Manu Ginobili for the season makes the Spurs a lot closer to a .500 team than a championship contender.  But that doesn't mask the fact that they are slowly but surely headed that direction anyway.  Nor does it mask the fact that despite that, they aren't there yet.  This teams still wins with or without its main players.  In fact there are only two types of teams the Spurs have lost to in the last few months: serious playoff teams and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Blazers will need to prove they're one of the former if they want to win tonight.

San Antonio's defense is decent, though not at the stellar level of their heyday.  They neither block shots nor force turnovers.  They just play smart, position defense and try to force you into contested shots, which they are then happy to rebound.  They have the highest defensive rebounding percentage in the league.  They are 4th in the league in points in the paint allowed.  They want you shooting over the top with a hand in your face.  They do not foul and bail you out either.  You earn your points or you don't get them.  Opponents don't take many threes against them but the ones they do take they tend to hit.  The Spurs either get out there and prevent the shot or cede it to you.  With enough inside pressure offensively the Blazers may be able to make some inroads from the three-point arc tonight.

On offense the Spurs are increasingly a perimeter team.  Duncan was never your prototypical low-post power forward and the rest of the scorers on this team are perimeter-oriented.  Only the Pistons and Raptors score fewer points in the paint than do the Spurs.  San Antonio isn't much of a fast break team either.  Despite this they still have a high field goal percentage because they know how, when, and where to get their shots.  They're deadly from the arc.  They don't draw fouls though.  They don't offensive rebound worth a darn but they don't turn the ball over either.  Once again, they're playing the percentages.  Meat and potatoes, forget the stinkin' garnish and seasoning.

The Blazers will have to watch out for Roger Mason, Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, and Bruce Bowen, all of whom can stroke from distance and all of whom are accomplished at playing off of the two stars.  Portland will also have to contend with the defense of Bowen and Ime Udoka on Brandon Roy.  But the big headache remains Tony Parker, who is too quick and talented for our guards to contain.  If Nicolas Batum can't slow him down the Blazers better be prepared for an offensive explosion.

Keys to the Game

1.  The Blazers will obviously have to get creative defending Parker, and Batum is probably the first option.  You have to find a way to limit his points.  Portland can probably still win if he scores his average but if he gets 30 the Blazers are going to have a hard time filling all of the leaks he will cause.

2.  Fast break points for Parker or anybody will make this game difficult to win.  San Antonio usually makes you slog it out offensively.  The Blazers are up for that but they can't spot the Spurs extra points.  Don't turn the ball over.  Be aware that they're going to rebound hard and make sure you get back.

3.  Unless he proves he's going to have a monster night you probably want to value keeping a hand in the face of three-point shooters over doubling Duncan.

4.  LaMarcus needs to have a huge night.  Brandon will have to work hard for anything he gets.  LMA scoring would take the pressure off.

5.  Make your threes.

Final Thoughts

This is a big game for San Antonio, much as Sunday's was for Houston.  Things are stacked against the Blazers.  How they respond will say as much as whether they actually win or not.  A win would be fantastic, making a stunning 3-1 road trip.  Whatever is in the cards, this game needs to be hotly contested.

Check out the San Antonio doings at PoundingtheRock. 

Jersey Contest playoff participants can enter tonight's game here. 

For those outside of the local area this game is broadcast on ESPN tonight.  It begins at 4:00 Pacific.

--Dave (