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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview

The Blazers return home from a five-game road trip to take on the reigning NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs tonight.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (18-6) vs. San Antonio Spurs (17-7)
Monday, December 15
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Spurs: Patty Mills, Tony Parker (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the RockTimmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Spurs Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night

UPDATE: The Spurs announced that they're sitting many of their players tonight. Hat tip to JP503 in the comments below for posting it.

The Blazers return home from a five-game road trip tonight to face the San Antonio Spurs, winners of the 2014 NBA Finals and owners of a 17-7 record so far this season.

The Spurs are coming into tonight's matchup on the second half of a back-to-back set of games. This is already the seventh time San Antonio has played on consecutive nights this season, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is well-known for resting his older players during particularly tough stretches of the schedule.

On the first instance of a back-to-back this season for San Antonio, Popovich sat power forward Tim Duncan and guard Manu Ginobili for the second game, a 98-81 beatdown at the hands of the Rockets in early November. Over the next four back-to-back sets, none of the Spurs' Big Three got a rest that wasn't necessitated by a pre-existing injury. On Dec. 10 against the Knicks, Popovich sat Duncan after San Antonio played in Salt Lake City the night before.

Point guard Tony Parker has missed four of the last five contests for the Spurs, only playing 18 minutes on a sore hamstring in a tough overtime loss to the Lakers Friday night. If he does suit up tonight, he's not likely to be as effective as most Blazers fans remember, as he's in the midst of one of the least productive seasons of his career and he's far from 100 percent healthy. Parker has finished at the rim well this season, but he's settling for more jumpers and is just 36.1 percent from the midrange. His three-point shot is fantastic this season, but a small sample size benefits his 64.5 percent shooting tremendously.

Duncan -- who may get the game off tonight after playing 32 minutes last night in a win over the Nuggets -- has been on a tear his last five games, hitting 50.9 percent of his field goals for 17.5 points per outing. His jumpshot has looked pretty average in that span, but he doesn't go to it often and attempts half his shots right at the rim, where he's been good for 62.1 percent of them.

Small forward Kawhi Leonard -- the reigning NBA Finals MVP -- has made over half his attempts the last five games and has been filling out the stat-sheet in other ways, averaging 4.3 assists, 3.7 steals and 2 blocks a game in that time. Leonard splits his shots about half-and-half from the midrange and in the paint, with a smattering of three-pointers. His midrange jumper has gone in half the time and he's made two-thirds of his shots at the rim, with 55 percent of his makes coming off the dribble.

Guard Danny Green has been playing big minutes with Parker and Ginobili ailing from various injuries lately. He's tried 5.6 three-pointers a night the last five outings but has made only 32.1 percent of them. Last night in Denver, Green went 2-for-7 from the field and 1-for-4 from deep, continuing his shooting struggles.

Point guard Cory Joseph has been starting in the absence of Parker, connecting on almost 59 percent of his shots the last five games. A third of his attempts are midrange jumpers, where he's been a mediocre scorer. Joseph's best shots are right in the paint, where he goes for most of his field goals and has hit 66.7 percent of them the last couple weeks. He made six of his seven tries last night for 13 points in 32 minutes.

Guard Marco Belinelli comes off the bench, averaging 24.8 minutes per game the last five. He's made 55.6 percent of his threes in that time, 80 percent of them coming in catch-and-shoot situations. Forward Boris Diaw is a crafty scorer inside but doesn't take many attempts overall. Reserve forwards Austin Daye and Matt Bonner both have gotten up over two three-pointers a night the last several outings, shooting 33.3 and 41.7 percent, respectively, from outside.

Center Tiago Splitter got the start in the middle last night, but is slowly recovering from an early-season injury calf injury that held him out for most of the first six weeks of the season. He was 5-of-7 last night from the field in 20 minutes, so he may be rounding into shape.

Bigs Kyle Anderson and Aron Baynes had been playing big minutes the last couple weeks before combining for nine total minutes of game-time last night in Denver. Expect them to play more tonight as Popovich will likely limit the minutes of his starting frontcourt. Both Anderson and Baynes attempt most of their shots right at the rim, and both have been solid at converting their limited field goals.

Overall, the Spurs' offense is humming along, top-six or better in the NBA the last five games in average points scored (109), assists (24.6), field goal percentage (49.6 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (41.6 percent). Popovich employs an efficient offense with plenty of ball movement and solid screens, a balanced attack that has seen six players average between 9.2 and 14.3 shots per game the last five.

Portland's defense has kept its ship afloat the last several games, a solid counter to San Antonio's offensive efficiency. The Blazers have held opponents to 95 points per game the last five (No. 6 in the NBA), 19.8 assists (No. 5), 42.7 percent shooting from the field (No. 5) and 24.1 percent shooting from deep (No. 1). The Spurs don't run much, and Portland is an average team at defending in transition. Don't expect too many fastbreak points tonight unless one or both teams switch from their typical gameplans.

San Antonio's defense has been pretty average lately, and the Spurs have generally struggled to stop teams from making threes, though they run teams off the three-point line well. After playing at altitude last night in Denver, they may have a tough time preventing Portland from launching from deep, as the Blazers have gotten up 25 threes a night the last five outings. Still, the Pacers allowed them to attempt just 17 threes the other night, and the Spurs have allowed the opposition a league-low 16.2 three-pointers per game the last five.

Portland coach Terry Stotts was able to salvage the team's recent five-game road trip with a 3-2 record after dropping two straight to the 'Wolves and Bulls. The Blazers got balanced scoring in a 95-85 win over Indiana Saturday afternoon, with five players scoring in double-figures.

Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has led his team in field goal attempts the last five games, averaging 20.2 attempts a night in that span. He's relied on his midrange jumper for over 57 percent of his shots in that time, making them at a 36.2 percent clip. Aldridge has been similarly lackluster at finishing inside recently, too, but he's put up seven threes the last five games and has cashed in on four of them.

Point guard Damian Lillard blew up for 35 points against Chicago Friday night in a losing effort, and followed that up with a 7-for-22 performance the next night against the Pacers. He's down to 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent shooting from deep the last five games, but has finished well when taking it all the way to the hole. In that time his assists are down slightly, but so are his turnovers.

Guard Wesley Matthews didn't shoot well against Indiana but finished the road trip with a 50.9 percent field goal percentage and a 41.9 percent three-point shooting percentage. Over half his attempts have come from long-range, but Matthews' midrange game has been solid when he's gone to it.

Forward Nicolas Batum finally came uncorked offensively on Saturday against the Pacers, hitting all six of his two-point tries. He did miss four of his five outside shots, but considering his shooting woes lately, Blazers fans will take Batum's continued offensive improvement where they can get it. He's led the team in assists per game the last five, chipping in five more Saturday.

Center Robin Lopez went 4-of-4 from the field against Indiana, a sign that he might be turning the corner after struggling from the field for a couple weeks. His backup, Chris Kaman, registered 10 points off the bench Saturday on 5-of-11 shooting. Both players have looked better the last couple games after starting out the five-game road trip inefficiently.

Backup point guard Steve Blake has quietly put together a very solid stretch of games recently, averaging 5.4 points and 4.2 assists in 20.3 minutes per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from deep the last several contests. Guard Allen Crabbe played a quiet 16 minutes Saturday, but he's hit almost two-thirds of his limited field goals the last five games and half his three-pointers in that span.

Of forwards Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson, wing Will Barton and big man Meyers Leonard, none played against the Pacers and that group saw just 15 combined minutes of playing time over the five-game road trip. Frontcourt reserve Joel Freeland played just over eight minutes a night and didn't do much offensively.

The Spurs have been a better rebounding team than the Blazers lately, led by Duncan's 12.8 rebounds per game -- 4.5 of them on the offensive side of the ball -- in his last five outings. The rest of San Antonio's work on the glass is truly a group effort, with nine players averaging between 3 and 5.3 rebounds per game the last five. Portland relies pretty heavily on its frontcourt for rebounds, with Aldridge and Lopez pacing the team. Freeland and Lopez are most effective on the offensive side, helping create second-chance points for the Blazers with their hustle and tip-ins. Aldridge and Kaman clean up on the other side. If Duncan plays tonight, San Antonio should have the advantage on the boards, but Lillard, Batum and Matthews all contribute consistently from their wing positions.

No one can be sure how Popovich will divide his playing time on the second half of a back-to-back after playing in Denver last night. Parker's had lingering injury issues recently and didn't play against the Nuggets while Duncan put in 32 minutes and Ginobili collected a half-dozen of his own. Expect to see a bit more of Baynes, Bonner and Diaw tonight with large helpings of Joseph, Belinelli, Leonard and Green.

If the Blazers ride the defensive momentum they created on the five-game road trip -- sans the 115-106 loss to the Bulls Friday -- they should be able to match up fairly well with the Spurs tonight. That said, even a San Antonio team that's not at 100 percent presents as much or more of a challenge than any team Portland's played the last few weeks. If the Blazers want revenge tonight on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last spring, they'll need solid outings on both sides of the ball and will have to play with discipline.

Popovich's defense is designed to give up long two-pointers -- which is right in Portland's wheelhouse -- so the Spurs-Blazers matchup is always a wildcard and tonight's game will be a test for both teams, each residing among the leaders in the Western Conference standings.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter

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