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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview

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The Blazers hit the road tonight to take on the San Antonio Spurs in the first half of a back-to-back. Kawhi Leonard will likely play, which would mark his first game back since a mid-December hand injury forced him to miss 15 straight contests.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (30-9, No. 2 in the West) vs. San Antonio Spurs (24-16, No. 7 in the West)
Friday, January 16
AT&T Center; San Antonio, TX | 5:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland | Out for the Spurs: Marco Belinelli, Kawhi Leonard (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the RockTimmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night

The Blazers travel to San Antonio tonight to face the Spurs at the AT&T Center. Portland lost to the Clippers at home two nights ago, 100-94, despite a 37-point performance from power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio beat the Hornets Wednesday night on the road.

The Spurs have been up-and-down since early December. They've gone 6-4 in their last 10 games, but small forward Kawhi Leonard -- the 2014 NBA Finals MVP -- will likely make his return tonight after missing the last several weeks with a hand injury. For the first time all season, coach Gregg Popovich will have most of his full array of players available (wing Marco Belinelli is still out with a groin injury).

San Antonio has been forced into utilizing 23 different starting lineups this season due to a rash of poor health to key players -- no single player on the roster has played in all 40 games this year, and guards Patty Mills, Tony Parker and Belinelli, along with center Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard have all missed significant action. Of course, Popovich has also rested guards Manu Ginobili and big man Tim Duncan a handful of games this year.

This all amounts to a surprising 26-14 record and a No. 7 ranking in the West for the defending NBA champions, though the Spurs faithful are hoping the team can finally turn the corner now that it has a (mostly) clean bill of health.

Analyzing the statistics from the last several San Antonio games would provide inconclusive results at best, mainly due to Kawhi Leonard being one of the team's biggest difference-makers when he's on the court. Overall this season, the Spurs are ranked No. 12 in the league in Offensive Rating and No. 6 in Defensive Rating, according to NBA.com.

San Antonio features excellent ball movement regardless of who's healthy -- 27 of the Spurs' 37 made field goals against the Hornets were assisted -- and they score a lot in the paint. Their outside shooting is strong, though they're also an efficient team within the arc.

San Antonio defends shots inside the perimeter well and is pretty good at defending the three-point line, not allowing opponents to get off many good looks from deep. The Spurs don't force a ton of turnovers and they tend to foul a lot at times, but they also defend well in transition.

One of San Antonio's biggest weaknesses is that they are prone to coming out of halftime slowly, giving up a lot of points in the third quarter. They generally tighten things up in the fourth period, though, and the Spurs' scoring also usually improves in the final quarter.

The Blazers have taken out the Spurs twice this season, once in convincing fashion about a month ago and then again in a triple-overtime thriller in which Portland point guard Damian Lillard went off for 43 points. Still, it's difficult to glean too much from those two games, considering Duncan, Splitter and Ginobili missed the first and Parker and Kawhi Leonard missed the second. The Blazers, on the other hand, had center Robin Lopez available in the first matchup but not the second, and they now are missing both him and his backup, Joel Freeland.

Ginobili was the main force off the bench for San Antonio against the Hornets on Wednesday, dropping 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting overall while going 3-of-6 from outside in 24 minutes. He's made over half his shots the last five games, including two-thirds of his attempts at the basket, and 50 percent of his threes. Ginobili rarely settles for midrange jumpers, either attacking the basket or bombing away from deep. He's also found teammates for scores well lately, though he's also struggled with turnovers.

Parker started and played 23 minutes against the Hornets, shooting 5-for-12 from the field and picking up five assists. His outside shooting has been bad lately, though it typically is and he mostly avoids three-pointers. Parker's also not moving the ball as well as he usually does, hasn't converted at the rim convincingly lately and has struggled with his jumper, but his floater in the key is dialed in.

Duncan has been his normal, consistent self recently, pacing San Antonio's offense with about a dozen field goal attempts per game the last five. His midrange shooting has been a bit off target, but he's made almost 71 percent of his shots at the basket the last couple weeks.

Mills comes off the bench, but he's actually played more minutes recently than Parker, and for good reason; He's made 47.6 percent of his three-pointers the last five games and is hardly turning the ball over. Most of Mills' shots are assisted, and he's a great catch-and-shoot player from deep.

Wing Danny Green has struggled with his shots inside the arc recently, but he's made 39.4 percent of his outside shots the last five games. For some reason, though, he's been ice-cold on his corner threes the last couple weeks.

Popovich has gone with wholesale line changes fairly often this season, often subbing in groups of reserves at once. He usually goes about 10-deep with his playing rotation, and besides Mills and Ginobili, bigs Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Splitter, along with guard Cory Joseph, take up the lion's share of the minutes off the bench. Diaw's struggled at the rim lately but he's been decent a little further away from the basket and he's a crafty passer. Bonner has scored well from outside but not from anywhere else, and Splitter has been inconsistent in limited attempts. Joseph has led the Spurs in assists per game the last five and has been an average scorer in that time, half of his shots coming at the rim.

Frontcourt players Jeff Ayres, Austin Daye, Aron Baynes and Kyle Anderson are all healthy but are generally used situationally by Popovich, and none of the players at the end of the bench tend to get many shots up besides Daye, who's a great outside shooter.

Portland's offense has been somewhat pedestrian lately, and the team has often relied on strong individual performances from either Aldridge or Lillard to finish off teams. Points, assists and shooting percentages are all slightly down for the Blazers recently. As Portland fans discovered Wednesday night in the loss to the Clippers, when the three-pointers aren't falling, the offense has a hard time manufacturing enough points to defeat quality teams.

Defense has been the Blazers' calling card recently, and they're No. 2 in the NBA the last five games at defending the three-point line (26.6 percent on 18.8 attempts) and No. 4 in opponents' overall field goal percentage (41.8 percent). Portland doesn't force a lot of turnovers, and opposing teams have been able to move the ball better lately against the Blazers than usual. Even so, the defense has held together rather well recently, considering the injuries to rim-protectors Lopez and Freeland.

Aldridge has hit 46.3 percent of his 21.6 field goals per game the last five, his effectiveness in the lane bolstering his scoring output while his midrange jumper hasn't been consistently solid. He destroyed forward Blake Griffin in their head-to-head matchup Wednesday night, carrying the bulk of the scoring load as Lillard and guard Wesley Matthews were unable to produce much offense.

Lillard, who had a rough night for three quarters against L.A. a couple nights ago, has been good at getting into the lane and scoring lately, also hitting his three-pointers at a 39 percent clip the last several outings. His assists are slightly down in that time, but so are his turnovers and he's currently leading the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season.

Though Matthews went 3-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-8 from deep against the Clippers Wednesday, he's made almost 41 percent of his threes the last five games and has been active on the defensive end, nearly doubling his normal amount of steals to two per game the last couple weeks.

Forward Nicolas Batum is currently going through one of the most difficult stretches of one of his worst seasons as a Blazer. He's made fewer than a third of his shots the last five games and 21.1 percent of his threes, though he is still managing to contribute on the glass and in the passing game. Coach Terry Stotts would like him to be more aggressive when looking for his own shot offensively, and a difficult matchup with Kawhi Leonard -- who is a great finisher inside, a decent jumpshooter and a marksman from the corners -- awaits Batum tonight.

Center Chris Kaman is filling in as a starter reasonably well, hitting his jumpshots consistently and displaying a little extra aggression inside -- he had a couple authoritative dunks against the Clippers -- but the ball sometimes sticks with him. Kaman can be a bit over-assertive, too, and he's struggled with turnovers recently as teams have often poked the ball away from him as he moves toward the basket.

Stotts' super-sub off the bench the last handful of games has been center Meyers Leonard, who has canned 58.1 percent of his shots the last five games and 45.5 percent of his threes in 22.1 minutes a night. He doesn't look lost defensively, and his contributions on the glass have been invaluable, both great steps for the third-year big man who had been collecting plenty of DNP-CDs earlier in the season before stepping in effectively when Freeland hurt his shoulder a couple weeks ago.

Guards Steve Blake and CJ McCollum have both struggled mightily from the field recently. Forwards Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright and Victor Claver, along with guards Will Barton and Allen Crabbe, have all been used somewhat sparingly by Stotts lately, though you know the drill by now; At any given time, any of the aforementioned reserves could find themselves picking up game action, as Stotts employs a fairly fluid playing rotation and all players need to be ready when called upon.

The Blazers lead the NBA in total rebounds per game the last five and are No. 7 in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, but they've generally been unable to grab a lot of offensive rebounds and their overall rebounding percentage is a mediocre 50 percent in that span. Aldridge, Kaman, Batum and Meyers Leonard have kept the team afloat on the boards in the absence of Lopez and Freeland. The Spurs have struggled to corral rebounds recently, and they're near the bottom of the league in offensive rebounding and overall rebounding percentages lately. They're decent on the defensive glass. If Kawhi Leonard's back tonight, however, San Antonio should be much, much more effective on the boards, as he's No. 2 on the team in rebounds per game for the season.

The Spurs will be looking for revenge tonight after the Blazers took them to three overtimes a month ago and beat them on their home court behind Lillard's 43 points and clutch shooting down the stretch. Also consider that Popovich will be playing with an almost full deck for the first time this season. Portland, meanwhile, is a little shallow in the froncourt right now. If the Blazers rediscover their outside shooting tonight and play defense as well as they have lately, even a healthy Spurs team at home is beatable, and they may be able to catch them as they try to reintegrate Kawhi Leonard -- probably their best all-around player -- back into the lineup.

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

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