The Portland Trail Blazers followed up their best win of the season on Tuesday with perhaps their worst defeat of the season on Thursday. Going down by 28 points in the first quarter proved to be too much of a deficit to overcome. The inevitable efforts at a comeback gave the Moda Center faithful something to cheer for, but in the end San Antonio kept the Blazers at arm’s length and won by the score of 118-105.
Victor Webanyama was awe-inspiring, putting up 30 points on 63.3% shooting from the field, 50% from deep and hitting all 10 of his free throws. As we pointed out in yesterday’s preview his efficiency has been suspect at times during his rookie year. On Thursday he made a mockery of every critical word. Since the Blazers couldn’t stop him, they’ll have to rely on Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich to do it for them by resting him, something he indicated he’d do.
San Antonio Spurs (4-25) at Portland Trail Blazers (8-21) - Friday, Dec. 29 - 7:00 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III (out), Shaedon Sharpe (out), Deandre Ayton (out), Duop Reath (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Toumani Camara (questionable), Jabari Walker (probable)
Spurs injuries: Charles Bassey (out), Victor Wembanyama (out)
SBNation Affiliate: Pounding the Rock
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
How’s Zach Collins doing for the Spurs so far this year? How good of a fit would he be playing with our solid crop of scrappy and motivated younglings?
Zach has settled into a pretty predictable role with the Spurs. Most nights he’ll come off the bench for between 20 and 30 minutes. He’s averaging 12.9 points and six boards, making him useful but far from a game changer. If the lottery balls had gone a different way maybe Zach would be competing for a starting role. As it is he’s probably found his level in San Antonio. He signed a pretty lucrative extension that keeps him under contract through 2025-26, when he’ll be earning just over $18 million for that season. While I’m sure he’ll appreciate looking at his bank account when the extension kicks in, I can’t imagine the Blazers or too many other teams will be all that motivated to trade for the big guy from Las Vegas. He seems to be well liked by everyone who works with him, so you never know what could happen after the 2025-26 season, but I think a return to Portland would be a huge long shot. If he somehow did wind up back the Rose City he’d fit in just fine, it’s just he’s not young enough to be developed for growth and not good enough to demand a starting role. He’d just be a quality depth piece as he is in San Antonio.
What To Watch For
- Shot making. We highlighted this in yesterday’s preview. Both teams are usually bad at shooting the basketball. On Thursday San Antonio made shots, especially in the first quarter. Portland didn’t, especially in the first quarter. It was ugly. The Blazers missed 19 shots in the first quarter. The Spurs missed 7 plus a free throw. Needless to say the Blazers can’t shoot that poorly if they want to hang with the... (checks notes) ... 29th best team in the NBA.
- Who is available? Presumably Victor Wembanyama won’t be playing going by previous comments from Popovich. On the Blazers’ side the injury list is getting long again. Simons shooting, Ayton’s bulk and Sharpe’s energy were certainly missed, and Duop Reath’s late scratch sure didn’t help either. If Wemby is truly out and the Blazers get some bodies back it could be a different game on Friday. If not, well, it could be another embarrassing outing if they can’t get out of the gate in better shape.
What Others Are Saying
David Aldridge of the Athletic writes about the challenges facing Victor Wembanyama in his rookie year (subscription required).
Think of the challenge. The leap in talent is just the start of it. You are living, now, thousands of miles from the people who know you the best, and care about you the most. You’re likely under a microscope, either being taken high in the first round or for being relatively unknown. The NBA game is worlds different from even the best leagues around the globe. You’re likely years away from being strong enough physically to withstand the rigors of an NBA season. In Europe, teams practice a lot and play a little every week. It’s the exact opposite here.
Having Keldon Johnson come off the bench is better late than never according to Jahlil Williams of Air Alamo.
Before the Utah Jazz game two nights ago, the starting lineup report was received, and for the second game in a row, Keldon Johnson was set to come off the bench. Johnson is the longest-tenured player on the Spurs roster, and yet this news was only shocking because of the timing. Fans may not know the intimate details of a player’s game as coaches do, but sometimes they get it right. The Silver and Black faithful have suggested Johnson come off the bench for months now.
Jeph Duarte of Pounding the Rock looks at all of the Blazers head coaches who went against Popovich over the years.
Of the teams we have discussed, it should be noted that the Trail Blazers have had longer tenured coaches. Although there have been eight over Pop’s time in San Antonio, two served as interim. Six make up the majority of the last twenty-seven seasons.