Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW and NBATV
After a jolly jaunt to Los Angeles the Blazers are back tonight to tilt with the hottest team in the NBA, the injured-yet-somehow-winning San Antonio Spurs. While everyone else is busy talking about Jeremy Lin the Spurs have amassed an 11-game win streak. 6 of those victories came against teams with winning records, including Oklahoma City and the Clippers. 8 of those games were on the road. The exploits of Lin and the Knicks are like kindergarten refrigerator artwork compared to this Picasso.
During this stretch the Spurs have let only 1 opponent reach 100 in a non-overtime game.
Tony Parker has topped 30 points four times, including 42 against the Thunder. In his last three games he's averaged 29 points and 12 assists.
Tim Duncan has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds in February, up from 13 and 8 in January. He's had 6 double-digit rebounding efforts in the last 10 games, all but equaling his total for the rest of the season combined.
Center Matt Bonner is shooting over .500 from the three-point arc during the streak. He dropped 20 on the Jazz last night.
Center Tiago Splitter is lighting the world on fire from the field (64%). Fortunately for the Blazers he may be out for this game.
Plus the Spurs have gotten key, if intermittent, contributions from point guard Gary Neal, shooting guard Daniel Green, and small forward Kawhi Leonard, all of whom have stepped up when needed.
Oh, and then there's rebounding machine (plus a little scoring on the side) DeJuan Blair.
Combined this masks the absence of Manu Ginobili who, after returning from a month-long absence due to hand injury, played 4 low-impact games and now is out again.
Through all of this San Antonio remains committed to the same kind of ball that brought them to the dance. They're right down the middle in tempo. They don't score on the break. They don't worry about offensive rebounds. They don't draw a ton of fouls. Here's what they do: bring the ball up the court, execute, and shoot an extremely high percentage. Assists are a problematic metric but in San Antonio's case they tell the story accurately. They're 4th best in the league in assists per possession, 2nd in turnovers per possession, 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio. They're better than anybody at getting good looks for their players and converting.
Fortunately for the league the Spurs are no longer the defensive powerhouse they once were. They're decent...average in most categories. They send opponents to the free throw line fewer times than any other team in the league. On the other hand their overall field goal percentage allowed shades to the high side. They don't block shots nor do they create turnovers. Their goal is to keep you out of the paint, make you take a tough shot so their excellent defense rebounding can take over. Loop back one paragraph, repeat 90 or so times per game, San Antonio walks away with another win.
Clearly the Blazers will have to play smartly tonight (in both senses of the word) to hang with the surging Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge seems to relish beating up on Tim Duncan. On the other hand Tony Parker becomes immune to Portland defense when he gets rolling. It's unlikely that either team will win this game with their top player alone. The contest will flow one of two ways. Either this will be a routine evening of pretty good basketball and the Spurs will win or the Blazers will come with enough energy in the supporting cast to shake up San Antonio's three-piece suit style and the Blazers will win. You can't get rebound against this team, you have to get nasty. You can't just run, you've got to run and jam it in their face. This isn't a fencing duel. The first time they block your rapier slash up high you kick them in the crotch and let them know what kind of evening they're in for. Remind them that they're injured. Remind them that Gerald Wallace could beat the crud out of any of them and that Nicolas Batum's shots cut like razors. Show them that you're longer, more athletic, younger with energy to burn. Show them that this is your turf. That decidedly non-polite mentality is the only thing keeping the Blazers from a chess match that they can't win. When the grand master opens with a Sicilian Defense and smirks knowingly across the table at you, punch him in the nose. Game over, Brainy.
This is the last game before the All-Star break. Hopefully the Blazers can lay it on the line knowing rest is ahead instead of taking vacation early.
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