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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview

The Blazers kick off a four-game road trip tonight with their second matchup against the San Antonio Spurs in the last four days.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (20-6) vs. San Antonio Spurs (17-9)
Friday, December 19
AT&T Center; San Antonio, TX | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD, ESPN; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum (questionable) | Out for the Spurs: Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the RockTimmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night

The Blazers kick off a four-game road trip tonight against the Spurs in San Antonio. Portland hosted the short-handed Spurs Monday night, winning 108-95.

San Antonio guard Tony Parker and forward Kawhi Leonard have been ruled out for tonight's matchup. The Spurs lost to the Grizzlies in three overtimes on Wednesday as coach Gregg Popovich went with his fifteenth different lineup of the season, featuring guards Cory Joseph and Danny Green, rookie forward Kyle Anderson and big men Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan. Center Tiago Splitter, who has been slowly recovering from an early-season calf injury, played 24 minutes off the bench while 37-year-old Manu Ginobili registered 41 minutes. Duncan, Joseph, forward Boris Diaw and guard Marco Belinelli all played at least 38 minutes a piece, with Green on the court for 52 minutes of his own.

The Blazers lost starting center Robin Lopez for at least six weeks in the victory over the Spurs Monday night, after he broke his hand on an impact with Diaw's head while going for a rebound. On Wednesday night with the Bucks in town, Portland saw starting small forward Nicolas Batum lay on the floor in pain for several minutes after he hit the deck following a successful fastbreak dunk. Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders gave Batum a one-handed shove while he was still in the air, earning a Flagrant-1 foul from the referees. It was later reviewed by the NBA and upgraded to a Flagrant-2 foul, earning Sanders a one-game suspension.

The fallout for Batum, at the very least, is a sore wrist and a bruised right knee to go along with the left knee contusion he suffered late last month. He's listed as "questionable" tonight and wasn't able to practice yesterday or dribble a basketball without pain, reports Blazers digital reporter Casey Holdahl. Batum will be a gametime decision.

Predicting the two starting lineups for both teams tonight would be an educated guess at best, more likely a shot in the dark. On Wednesday against the Bucks, Blazers coach Terry Stotts inserted forward Thomas Robinson into the starting frontcourt next to big man LaMarcus Aldridge, able to do so because the Bucks have little proven frontcourt depth and feature mostly smaller lineups.

Tonight, Stotts will be tasked with finding the appropriate center to start against a bigger and deeper Spurs rotation up front, while also likely figuring out who to start on the wing in place of Batum. When the 6-foot-8 Frenchman missed a stretch of games several weeks ago, little-used reserve guard Allen Crabbe stepped into the starting small forward spot so Stotts could preserve his bench rotation. Since, Crabbe has proven himself to be a useful player off the bench, and if he starts tonight, Sotts would again have to tweak his allocation of minutes for the reserves.

Popovich, on the other hand, is also missing two starters -- Parker and Leonard -- and saw his team play an extra 15 minutes on top of regulation Wednesday night in Memphis. Splitter already had a minutes restriction, but is available tonight. Will Popovich again go with the Joseph-Green-Anderson-Duncan-Bonner lineup he went with against the Grizzlies? In that case, Stotts could likely get away with starting Robinson down low again. The same could be said if Diaw is rotated into the starting lineup in place of Bonner. If Splitter gets the nod from Popovich tonight, though, Blazers big man Joel Freeland, Leonard or reserve Chris Kaman would make the most sense starting for Portland next to Aldridge up front.

Curiously, reserve forwards Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes -- who combined to play 48 minutes for San Antonio Monday against the Blazers -- both received DNP-CDs against Memphis two nights ago, even though the game went into three overtimes.

Popovich is, essentially, completely unpredictable when it comes to guessing his starters and, perhaps more so, his general playing rotations from game to game. Similarly, Stotts will be jostling his roster tonight, searching for the right combination of players to fill Lopez' and (likely) Batum's minutes. This probably means more playing time for Robinson, Crabbe and guard CJ McCollum. Wings Will Barton and Dorell Wright could get moved up in the rotation along with Leonard, too. Of Course, Stotts could also go with a wing rotation of guard Wesley Matthews, Crabbe and McCollum with a smattering of minutes for either Barton or Wright.

Inconsistent lineups or not, San Antonio's offense has been serviceable as of late, even though the team has gone 2-3 in its last five outings. Over that time, the Spurs have averaged 105.8 points per game (No. 8 in the NBA), 24.2 assists (No. 6) while shooting 46.2 percent from the field (No. 11) and 42.9 percent from deep (No. 2).

Duncan and Leonard have spearheaded Popovich's offense recently, but Leonard is out tonight. In his absence, Green dropped 25 points against the Grizzlies Wednesday night, shooting 9-of-17 from the field and 7-of-13 from outside. Over the last couple weeks, Green has shot a modest 44.1 percent from the field, struggling to finish inside but hitting his jumpers consistently. His three-point shooting has been on-target the last five games, sitting at 44.4 percent.

Duncan hasn't been his normal self lately when shooting further from the basket, and he's making just 58.3 percent of his shots at the rim his last five outings. In that time, Ginobili has gotten up 15 shots per contest, making just 37.8 percent of his field goals but 40 percent of his threes. Ginobili and Green will likely both be aggressive tonight with Leonard in street clothes.

Joseph hasn't been able to hit his jumpshots recently, but he gets to the rim for almost half his attempts and he's finished inside at a 65 percent rate the last five games. Belinelli has come off the bench to hit 52.9 percent of his threes in that span. Diaw has been underwhelming offensively, making just 38.1 percent of his shots and 36.8 percent of his threes the last five contests. Baynes and Anderson have combined to attempt fewer than nine field goals a night the last five, but both are shooting over 61 percent from the field. Ayres, Bonner and seldom-used forward Austin Daye likely won't see big minutes tonight and don't get many shots up.

Portland's defense has been pretty stingy lately, not giving up many points consistently while preventing easy ball movement. The Blazers have been average at stopping teams within the arc but they've shut down the perimeter. The three-point defense may suffer, though, with Batum either out or hampered by lingering injuries, and the Spurs have several players who are a threat from outside, most notably Green, Belinelli and Ginobili.

Portland's team offense has dipped recently, and even though Batum hasn't been able to hit his shots from anywhere lately, he's played a huge role as facilitator, tying point guard Damian Lillard for team-lead in assists per game the last five with 5.6 a night. Neither Crabbe, Barton nor Wright can fully fill Batum's role as distributor, so Lillard, Matthews, McCollum and backup point guard Steve Blake will likely have to pick up the slack tonight by setting teammates up.

Lillard shot 10-of-18 from the floor and 4-of-7 from outside against the Bucks on Wednesday, scoring 29 points and possibly putting an end to a mini-shooting slump that had plummeted his shooting percentages recently.

Aldridge has been his normal reliable self lately, making 45.5 percent of his field goals the last five games and averaging 22 points a night. On Wednesday, he was 10-for-19 for 23 points, but the real star of the night was Robinson, who scored 15 points and brought in 16 rebounds in his first career start. If he continues to pick his spots offensively and focus his efforts on the boards, Robinson could be in line again for big minutes tonight. His athleticism and energy could be an issue for the frontcourt rotation Popovich went with against the Grizzlies -- Duncan, Bonner, Diaw and Splitter -- and the Spurs may try to match that intensity by giving bigger minutes to lesser-used players like Baynes and Ayres up front.

Matthews hit five of his eight shots against the Bucks but went 1-for-4 from outside, his three-point shooting percentage hovering around 39 percent the last five games. Crabbe has barely gotten up any shots in that time, but has been reliable when called upon. McCollum got up just two shots Wednesday night in his first game action in several weeks, but showed confidence while handling the ball, picking up three assists.

Kaman had a forgettable night against Milwaukee, making just three of his 12 attempts. Blake had four assists but couldn't hit anything from the field. Freeland played just 13 minutes but was 3-of-4 from the floor, and he could be in line for more playing time tonight if Popovich decides to go big up front.

Wright, Barton and Leonard have all played sparingly all season, though any one of them could be thrust into Stotts' playing rotation tonight. None of the aforementioned reserves has played with any sense of consistency in very limited minutes.

San Antonio's defense hasn't done anything well lately besides preventing opposing teams from getting to the foul line often. Outside of that, the Spurs have uncharacteristically given up plenty of points and assists while allowing teams to get good looks and hit those shots fairly regularly. With Leonard out, San Antonio's perimeter defense will suffer and Portland's wings should be able to get solid production from the perimeter if the ball is moving well.

The Spurs and Blazers are a close matchup on the boards, but Portland hasn't faced an opponent like San Antonio yet without Lopez. Robinson and Aldridge cleaned up the glass against the Bucks as the Blazers dominated them, pulling in 52 rebounds to Milwaukee's 32. Duncan has been supreme on the boards recently, but Aldridge matches up well with him. The secondary rebounders could play a huge role tonight, as both teams rely less on individuals and more on a group effort.

Both the Spurs and Blazers will be short-handed tonight, but Popovich and Stotts have been crafty when dealing with holes in their lineups so far this season. No matter who starts, and regardless of rotations, don't expect either team to back down. San Antonio has played .500 ball the last 10 games and won't want to give up too much ground in a tough Western Conference. Likewise, Portland is looking at four straight road games against playoff teams in the West and will be looking to hang onto its lead in the Northwest Division.

-- Chris Lucia | bedgecast@gmail.com | Twitter

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