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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview

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The Blazers are below .500 at the Moda. Can they reclaim their home court advantage against the Spurs?

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

Portland Trail Blazers (16-14) vs. San Antonio Spurs (21-10)

Wednesday, December 20th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Meyers Leonard (day-to-day)
Spurs injuries: Kyle Anderson (probable), Danny Green (probable), Kawhi Leonard (out), Tony Parker (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the Rock

The Blazers return home after a somewhat successful five-game road trip that was diminished by a tough loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a game where they faced a 21-5 free throw discrepancy. Overall, the Blazers went 3-2 on the road trip. While Portland has been successful on the road, they have been less so at home and are currently on a four-game home losing streak.

At 21-10, the San Antonio Spurs sit at No. 3 in the Western conference. They have struggled a bit lately, going 2-2 in their past four games. They’ve also lost their last two games on the road, where they’re only 6-8.

What to watch for

  • No Leonard or Parker for San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker have missed most of the season with injuries. Parker returned on November 27 and Leonard played his first game on December 12. Both have been on minutes restrictions and have been sitting out entire games for injury management reasons. Both will sit out Wednesday night. While this may help Portland’s chances, the Spurs have been excellent this season without them; they are 14-8 without Parker in the lineup and 20-8 without Leonard.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge back in Portland. Aldridge is having his best season as a Spur, averaging 22.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He’s been the focal point of the offense with Leonard missing most of the season, helping keep the Spurs near the top of the standings. It remains to be seen if he can maintain his success once Kawhi gets back to regular minutes. In his seven games against Portland, LA has averaged 15.4 points and 7 boards.
  • A defensive battle. Portland continues to play good defense. They are 4th best in the NBA for points against (100.8) and have the 5th best defensive rating (101.8) according to NBA.com. The Spurs have continued to have a top-tier defense even without the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard. They are giving up the fewest points in the league (98.1) and have the 4th best defensive rating (101.5).

What they’re saying

Matt Moore of CBS Sports broke down several plays from Leonard’s first three games:

In three games against the Mavericks, Rockets, and Clippers, Leonard put up a line of 10.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, one steal and one block in just 16 minutes per game. That's pretty efficient, even before you get to shooting 14 of 28 from the field. Obviously, he's still on a minutes restriction, and he has had areas where his injury was apparent.

The most encouraging sign? In the 48 minutes Leonard has been on the floor, the Spurs have given up just 89.7 points per 100 possessions, relative to 101.9 when he's on the bench. The problem is the Spurs have scored just 87.8 in this tiny sample. That number figures to go up, but that has been the problem so far: They're not scoring enough when Kawhi is on the court. That's to be expected, but it is the learning curve they're working past.

The 40-year-old Manu Ginobili has hit two game winners this month—a contested 3-pointer to beat the Celtics a couple weeks ago and a difficult layup to beat Dallas on Saturday. Taylor Young of Pounding the Rock wrote about what Ginobili means to San Antonio after the Boston win:

He’s the fire of the Spurs. His flair and unpredictably are the Silver and Black’s spice. Manu has always been my answer to the assertion that the Spurs are “boring.” He draws in dozens or hundreds of blue-and-white adorned fans nightly. Manu pilgrimages are made by loyal Argentinians and other Ginobili-faithful regardless of which city the Spurs visit. It’s because of games like Friday night’s that he has such a following. Manu is a basketball sanctuary.

His followers are thankful that his shrine remains open. He’s still providing memories at an age when new great moments from favorite athletes aren’t usually plentiful. On a day when he was tired from an early morning play-date with his children on a snow day, he still managed to drill a three-pointer against the league’s best team on a defender who about half his age.