Portland Trail Blazers (4-7) vs San Antonio Spurs (7-2)
Monday, November 16
AT&T Center | 5:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out) | San Antonio injury report: Manu Ginobili (probable), Kawhi Leonard (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the Rock | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
The Portland Trail Blazers (4-7) are set to face the San Antonio Spurs (7-2) tonight at 5:30 PM PST in San Antonio. Tonight's contest will be the second time Portland has faced San Antonio in six days. The Spurs won the first game 113-101 last Wednesday.
Portland currently sits in twelfth place in the western conference and will be trying to end a five-game losing streak. The Blazers' losing streak dates back to their disastrous fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 8.
The Spurs are currently second place in the Western Conference and have arguably been one of the top three teams in the NBA thus far. San Antonio has won its last four games and has a perfect 3-0 record at the AT&T Center.
Little has changed for the Spurs since defeating the Blazers last Wednesday. They have played one game in the ensuing six days, a 92-83 home victory over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.
In the last matchup between San Antonio and Portland, the Spurs used precise passing and sharp cuts to exploit the Blazers' less than challenging interior defense. San Antonio finished the game with a 56.1 percent mark from the field. The stellar shooting was not abnormal for the Spurs. They have an efficient offense that thrives on ball movement; the Spurs lead the league in field goal percentage and are third in assists at 29.5 per game.
The Spurs have also had a stellar defense this season. They lead the league with a defensive rating of 93.5 and are second in rebounding percentage at 54.2. Opponents shoot only 42.1% from the field and attempt only 18.9 free throws per game - both marks are the second best in the league. True to form, the Spurs held the Blazers to below their season averages for points, field goal percentage, and rebounding in the last contest.
Another key to the Spurs' success this season has been their deep and reliable bench. Coach Gregg Popovich regularly calls on his reserves to play long minutes, helping to keep the Spurs' starters rested throughout the season. Kawhi Leonard (33.4 minutes per game) is the only Spur averaging more than 31 minutes per game. The Spurs bench is also one of the strongest reserve units in the league - the Blazers saw this first hand on Wednesday when the San Antonio bench outscored the Portland second unit 14-4 to end the first quarter.
Individually, the Spurs' offense has been led by Leonard and former Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard, especially, has exploded offensively averaging a career high 21.9 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge's raw scoring numbers have dipped significantly in San Antonio - he is averaging 16.2 points compared to 23.4 for Portland last season - but he has still proven to be a threat, scoring 23 against the Blazers last week. Perhaps more importantly, Aldridge has integrated his isolation-based offensive game into the Spurs' system fairly well thus far.
In addition to Leonard and Aldridge the Spurs continue to rely on the winningest trio of teammates in NBA history: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. All three play limited minutes, but have looked effective this year. Parker, especially, has appeared more agile compared to previous seasons, despite averaging only 11.8 points and 3.4 assists per game.
Danny Green, on the other hand, has been a concern for the Spurs after signing a four-year contract worth $40 million this summer. Along with Leonard, Green still makes up half of one of the most terrifying perimeter defensive duos in the league, but he has only shot 27.5 percent from three and is only averaging 6.6 points per game.
After facing injury problems during the regular season last year the Spurs have been mostly healthy this season. Leonard (upper respiratory infection) and Ginobili (adductor strain) rested in San Antonio's most recent game against the Sixers, but will both likely play tonight. Although Leonard may still be feeling the effects of a nasty fall he suffered against the Blazers.
The Blazers, on the other hand, will be without their starting center Meyers Leonard, who dislocated his shoulder in the last game against the Spurs. No timetable has been officially set for his return.
Keys to tonight's game
To put it bluntly, the Blazers will have a tough time winning tonight. The Spurs are well rested and playing at full strength at home, while Portland has flown across the country twice in the last week and is on the second night of a back to back without their starting center. If the Blazers hope to have any chance they need to do the following:
Minimize mistakes: The Spurs are incredibly disciplined. Unlike in the NFL, every team in the NBA knows what plays their opposition is going to run. The key to success is to execute the plays more effectively than your opponent. Under Popovich, the Spurs have become masters of discipline and precision at both ends of the court. Any player who can't live up to that standard is immediately pulled, as Kyle Anderson discovered against the Boston Celtics.
Consequently, teams cannot make mistakes and give San Antonio free possessions because the Spurs are very unlikely to return the favor. Over time, the mistakes will add up and cost several points. Unfortunately, Portland has had trouble taking care of the ball in several games this season and has also resorted to poor shot selection when trailing. The Blazers will have little chance of winning tonight if either of those habits returns.
Avoid offensive slumps: Overall, the Blazers have had a surprisingly good offense this season. Statistically, they have shown little dropoff from last season despite losing many key players. In the last two games, however, Portland has gone through long stretches without a field goal. Offensive slumps will be problematic against the Spurs because it is unlikely that the Blazers' defense will be good enough to stop the Spurs for an extended period of time. A long scoring slump will likely translate to a big lead for San Antonio, which spells doom for Portland. The Blazers best hope is to keep the score close until the fourth quarter and then ride hot shooting from McCollum or Lillard to the upset.
Minimize bench disadvantage: San Antonio has an elite bench, and their superiority was a key to the Spurs' victory in the last game against Portland. The Blazers will need solid reserve play when the Spurs backups check in late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter. This will be partially contingent on who coach Terry Stotts chooses to start. He will need to find a player to fill in for Meyers Leonard who can keep the offensive cohesion of the starters intact, while also leaving some fire power with the reserves.
Portland leads the all-time regular season series against the Spurs 79-78, but trails 0-1 this season. After tonight the teams will face off once more this season, on March 17 in San Antonio.
Duncan had five blocks against the Sixers, moving him ahead of former teammate David Robinson into fifth place on the NBA's all-time blocks leader board. With six rebounds against the Blazers last week Duncan also passed Robert Parish to become the sixth all-time leading rebounder. Duncan has 2,955 blocks and 14,721 rebounds in his career.
The Spurs have two players from France on their roster, Parker and Boris Diaw. The team played the French National Anthem before the game against Philadelphia to honor those lost in the weekend's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Since November 8 the Blazers have played five games, but have been in all four time zones and flown about 5600 miles. That's an average of 1100 miles for every game, which is absurd even by the rigors of the NBA schedule. The league claimed to be making the schedule more player-friendly this season, but so far Portland's geographic isolation (relative to other NBA cities) has prevented that promise from materializing for the Blazers.
UPDATE: Casey Holdahl has confirmed via Twitter that Meyers Leonard will not play tonight.
Meyers Leonard (left shoulder) is out for tonight's game vs. San Antonio. It will be the third game he's missed with the injury.— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) November 16, 2015