San Antonio Spurs (61-19) at Portland Trail Blazers (40-40)
April 10, 2017, 7:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Spurs injuries: Dejounte Murray (out), Danny Green (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Pounding the Rock
Late in the season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has historically rested his key players while gearing up for the long haul of a deep playoff run, but the Blazers won’t be getting any favors from Pop tonight. After watching his team struggle in a loss to the LA Clippers on Saturday, Popovich expressed his disgust with his team’s execution on both ends and announced that his players would not get to rest in the final two games of the season.
So not only does Portland get the full Spurs experience, it’s likely against an extra motivated group of players.
Leading that group of players is young superstar—and MVP candidate—Kawhi Leonard. Possibly the most complete two-way player in the NBA today, Leonard has blossomed offensively this season, averaging 26 points, six rebounds, and nearly four assists per night. The two-time defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard also averages nearly two steals and a block per game while being capable of defending positions one through four.
Having yet another effective season is power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who averages 17 points and seven rebounds a night. Despite a slight drop off in his overall field goal percentage, Aldridge—always a deadly mid-range shooter—has effectively stretched out to 3-point range where he shoots 43 percent on nearly one attempt per game.
The Spurs backcourt consists of Tony Parker and, if Green is unable to go, Jonathon Simmons. Parker, years removed from his heyday as one of the league’s most effective players around the basket, is averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists per game—both at the lowest levels he’s produced since his rookie season in 2001. Simmons, a highly athletic second-year player out of University of Houston, has seen his consistency wane this year, though he is capable of making highlight-reel plays at any time.
In the middle, San Antonio starts Dewayne Dedmon, though he only plays around 17 minutes per game. Dedmon is a solid defender and rebounder who knows his place on the court.
Off the bench, the Spurs feature a solid veteran crew of Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobli, Patty Mills, and David Lee—all players who have been around the league, know their roles, and aren’t going to hurt their team.
For Portland, this matchup had the potential to be a heartbreaker, as a loss would have potentially sent their playoff hopes down to the final game of the season. But with the Denver Nuggets’ stunning loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday, the Blazers have their playoff seeding locked up and this game has effectively become meaningless.
That’s not to say that there won’t be value to come from this game; the Spurs play very effective defense and, generally, execute as well as any team in the NBA. These are things that come out during playoff basketball, and being able to measure oneself against this tier of team without a huge stake in the outcome is a luxury heading into the postseason.
Expect some variation in the rotations. Whether this involves all of the starters or just a handful remains to be seen, but it’d be surprising to see Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum play more than 24-26 minutes each. While going up against a Spurs team that currently is drawing some public ire from coach Pop is going to be a good litmus test going into the postseason, look for the Blazers to try to execute for two or three quarters before turning the game over to Jake Layman, Pat Connaughton, and the rest of the clean-up crew.