Portland Trail Blazers (14-20) at San Antonio Spurs (26-6)
Dec. 30, 2016, 5:30 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (doubtful), Festus Ezeli (out)
Spurs injuries: None
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the Rock
UPDATE (2:30pm): The Spurs announced this afternoon that Kawhi Leonard will miss tonight’s game.
UPDATED INJURY REPORT - Kawhi Leonard (gastroenteritis) is out for tonight’s Spurs-Trail Blazers game— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 30, 2016
After snapping a six game losing streak the Portland Trail Blazers head out on the road yet again, kicking off a brief three game swing with a rematch against a red-hot LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs.
Less than a week ago, the Spurs took care of business in Portland, defeating the Blazers 110-90 on a night that saw the Blazers lose not only the game, but Damian Lillard to a sprained ankle.
San Antonio coach Greg Popovich elected to rest several key players in that game, with Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli all getting the night off. The Spurs didn’t miss a beat behind the stellar play of elite two-way player Kawhi Leonard, who scored 33 points in the victory.
LaMarcus Aldridge notably received more touches than usual in this game, and this seems to have kick-started a hot streak for the former Blazers forward. In his last two games, Aldridge has scored 27 and 33 points, respectively, while shooting a combined 25 of 32 from the floor.
Should Aldridge continue to shoot anywhere near this well against Portland, he will cause major problems for Portland’s big men. With Aldridge’s ability to take the ball inside as well as pop out to the 3-point line, he can muscle against the likes of Maurice Harkless while taking advantage of Mason Plumlee’s difficulties in closing out effectively.
Though these teams just met a week ago, there is a major difference; Damian Lillard is likely going to miss his third consecutive game after spraining his ankle in the first match up. Blazers coach Terry Stotts has responded by putting Allen Crabbe in the starting lineup and having CJ McCollum handle point guard duties.
Stotts has also used Lillard’s absence to experiment with some different defensive looks, with decent success. However, Portland will need to continue to share the wealth, offensively, to plug the hole that Lillard’s absence leaves. McCollum has done an adequate job sharing the ball in Lillard’s absence; he’s not as good a passer, but he’s looking to get guys involved. Against the Spurs’ vaunted defense, this is a necessary thing.
Although Portland is coming off of a recent six game losing streak, there are positive signs with this team; Plumlee has been very active of late, Aminu’s jumper has looked better - or at least less terrible - and they’ve only given up more than 100 points once in their last four games.
The Spurs are one of the best teams in the league, both overall and in terms of taking advantage of an opponents mistakes. If Portland is to have a chance, they will need to continue on some recent positive trends while playing nearly mistake-free basketball.
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