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San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Preview

The Trail Blazers have lost eight of nine games and are looking to turn things around against the 23-6 San Antonio Spurs at home.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs (23-6) at Portland Trail Blazers (13-18)

Dec. 23, 2016, 7:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (DTD), Festus Ezeli (out), Evan Turner (out)
Spurs injuries: Manu Ginobli (out), Tony Parker (out), Pau Gasol (out)
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the Rock

Two days after losing their eighth game in nine tries against the abysmal Dallas Mavericks, the Portland Trail Blazers now face the mighty San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio, winners of 18 of their last 21 after a loss last night to the Los Angeles Clippers, continue to play a dominant brand of basketball despite much of their core being a year older and the retirement this past offseason of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

Seemingly no matter which players are slotted into supporting roles, the Spurs can always be counted on to play elite, fundamental basketball. This season is no different; the Spurs rank fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage, second in 3-point percentage, first in free throw percentage, eighth in assists, and fourth in fewest fouls committed.

And that’s not even taking into account their defense. Try this on for size: San Antonio ranks fourth in field goals allowed per game, eighth in field goal percentage allowed, second in 3-point percentage allowed, sixth in offensive rebounds allowed, second in total rebounds allowed, and fourth in assists allowed per night. San Antonio kills you with efficiency at one end and crushes you with defensive execution at the other.

All of this starts with elite two-way player Kawhi Leonard. Averaging nearly 24 points per game to go along with six rebounds and three assists, Leonard is a devastatingly effective defender no matter who he is matched up against. Leonard is the epitome of the player who “plays the game the right way.” He is not only aggressive and athletic, but possesses a high basketball-IQ coupled with unselfishness.

Of course, the Spurs have more weapons than just Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge continues to be effective, even if his shot attempts are at their lowest levels since his rookie year. Aldridge is putting up nearly 17 points per game and is shooting a robust 45 percent from the 3-point line in just under one attempt per game, by far a career high in both respects. Blazer fans know that Aldridge feasts in the midrange area, but he is also more than capable of posting up for a bucket against nearly any post defender in the league.

Center Pau Gasol, signed in the offseason to fill the veteran big man role vacated by Tim Duncan, has fit in quite nicely within the Spurs’ offense. Only averaging 11 points per game, Gasol is still shooting over 50 percent from the floor and is also shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. Gasol is slow-footed on defense, but the Spurs do an admirable job of funneling players toward Gasol, where he can still be a decent defender if he is already in position.

Danny Green and Tony Parker round out the starting backcourt, with Green shooting a cool 44 percent from the 3-point line after a horrible shooting slump last season. Parker isn’t nearly as effective as he used to be, and is definitely the weak link on the defensive side, but he still does a fine job of orchestrating the offense and picking his spots to get in the lane.

Per usual, the Spurs feature one of the more solid reserve units in the league, highlighted by backup guard Patty Mills, veterans Manu Ginobli (who will not play against Portland) and David Lee, and defensive specialist center Dewayne Dedmon.

The beauty of Spurs basketball is that no one player is more important than the system and, because of this complete buy-in, the organization is consistently able to move in lesser-known players who are able to find their niche and contribute. San Antonio isn’t flashy or exciting, but they are very, very good.

The Trail Blazers currently find themselves at what fans hope is rock-bottom after losing eight of nine games - including losses to the Mavericks, Kings, and Nuggets. Perhaps more importantly, the team looks like it’s alternating between being disinterested and dispirited - not a good combination. A win against a team like the Spurs would be a huge shot in the arm for a team that is at a crossroads, but don’t expect San Antonio to make it easy for the Blazers to get back to winning basketball.

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