The Portland Trail Blazers are back at home hosting the San Antonio Spurs in the first of a three-game homestand.
To learn more about tonight’s opponent, we spoke to Pounding the Rock contributor Noah Magaro-George about the current state affairs of the Spurs.
1. The Spurs started off hot winning five of their first seven games, but cooled off after a five-game losing streak. Why has the team struggled to win as of late?
The breakneck pace, unselfish passing, and continuous player movement of San Antonio’s motion offense surprised their opponents. And scorching three-point shooting only made it easier for them to make a disconnected defense pay for the slightest miscues. The Spurs have steadily regressed to the mean from long distance, and their modest offense hasn’t made up for their porous performance on the other end. Releasing Josh Primo amid legal allegations, injuries to Blake Wesley and Zach Collins, and a grueling opening schedule have further contributed to their fall in the Western Conference standings.
2. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell have emerged as leaders on this team. How big has their impact been?
Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell emerging as reliable go-to options for the Spurs has been vital to the club overachieving. Both youngsters have made immense strides as scorers, showing more comfortability as pick-and-roll initiators and a tighter handle in crowded spaces. Gregg Popovich has done a terrific job of not force-feeding either player touches, allowing them to get their shots within the flow of the offense. They still get plenty of opportunities to experiment on-ball as they learn to shoulder more of the offensive burden, but it hasn’t come at the expense of ditching their overarching team-first principles. More than anything, their mindset of making the playoffs and proving doubters wrong has rubbed off on their teammates, which has motivated everyone to give maximum effort at all times.
3. What’s one thing people should know about the Spurs that they cannot find in a box score?
So this might be cheating since it has almost nothing to do with the actual on-court product, but the Spurs have the best collection of jerseys in the NBA this season. You might say their standard black and white threads are bland, but why stray from an iconic design donned by Hall of Famers like David Robinsons, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili? The classic edition is objectively flawless, harkening back to the days when George Gervin put San Antonio on the basketball map. What about their statement unis? How can you not love the serape side paneling that pays homage to the deeply-rooted Mexican culture pulsing through the 2-1-0? Of course, no wardrobe would be complete without their fiesta jersey. Even when the Silver and Black lose, at least they go down in style.
4. If the Spurs were to win Tuesday, what would be the reason why?
The Spurs always have a chance to win if they limit turnovers, share the ball, get back in transition, and knock down their threes. Hitting all those checkmarks is a tall task for a young team, and high-scoring affairs have defined their season. When you can’t keep an opponent from putting up almost 120 points per game, you better hope your offense conceals your defensive shortcomings. San Antonio has lived and died from beyond the arc, and that doesn’t figure to change when they visit the Trail Blazers for the first time on Tuesday.
5. What’s your prediction for Tuesday’s game?
Depending on the outcome of their matchup with the Warriors on Monday night, this could probably go a handful of ways for San Antonio. A nail-biter in Golden State and subsequent red-eye flight could leave them worn out for a date with a Blazers team that has been resting since Sunday. On the other hand, the Spurs could emerge inspired to maintain their momentum after a resounding victory over the reigning champs. Predicting which version of this young squad shows up on a nightly basis has been almost impossible, so we’ll probably be along for the same ride when they suit up tonight.