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Trail Blazers Face Spurs For Final Time

03/08/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Portland Trail Blazers (28-32) continue their three-game road trip against the team with the Western Conference's best record in the San Antonio Spurs (48-14). This is the Trail Blazers first visit to San Antonio this season and the final meeting between the two teams. Tip-off is set for 5:30 and the game will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    This is the final meeting between these two teams but both games, although under very different circumstances both times, have been very competitive. However, it may be the first game that will be more telling as far as what we can expect this time around. The Trail Blazers lost a tight, high-scoring affair to a Tony Parker-less Spurs team on November 10th at the Rose Garden. The Trail Blazers, for the majority of the game, were playing a better game. Nicolas Batum had a monster of a game, scoring 33 points with seven rebounds and four assists to go along with 29 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and 20 points from Damian Lillard. However, a steady 22 point, nine rebound performance from Tim Duncan, 27 points including 15 in the fourth quarter from Gary Neal and some late-game free-throws were able to steal the lead. Nicolas Batum had an opportunity at a game-winning three-pointer, which he later wanted to take back as he and Coach Stotts recognized that it wasn't the best shot given the situation, only being down by two. Nevertheless, the shot clanked off the back rim and Batum was in one helluva rhythm and had hit two threes in the final two minutes before that, so you it's hard to blame him for taking the shot. The Trail Blazers lost but they were able to get revenge over a month later with a 98-90 win. Parker played in that one, but they were also without Kawhi Leonard, who is the Spurs' biggest defensive difference maker on the perimeter, especially defensively. There is no doubt that the first game between these two teams will be a point of reference for Coach Stotts, as it shows that although the Spurs don't have their starting point guard, best player and MVP-candidate, that they can still beat you. And, as their last two games have shown, if you don't come ready, it can get ugly real quick. As Stotts said before they were going to embark on the road trip after their win against Charlotte, the Spurs are "a machine." Without Parker, they've won their last two games by a combined margin of 57 points.
      
     •    If you ask what the biggest reason why the Spurs are able to reel off wins without Parker? It's the fact that Tim Duncan, in his 15th year and Manu Ginobili in his 10th, are still pretty darn good at basketball. The Spurs are the only team in the NBA with three player ranking in the top-15 in Player Efficiency Rating. Duncan has been performing since day one and although it took Ginobili a little while to get into form, he continues to show why even at his advanced age, why he is one of the best wing players of this generation. Along with Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs' defense has improved from being 10th in the NBA last season to 3rd this year. Also, some of their younger players have continued to improve and give the Spurs more weapons to continue being the best in the West. Kawhi Leonard is averaging 11 point, five rebounds and nearly two steals a night while shooting over 49 percent and shooting a solid 37.4 percent on threes. Tiago Splitter also continues to produce from the center position averaging 10.5 points and six rebounds.
     
      •    The Trail Blazers come into this game four games back of the eight seed in the playoffs. As the season continues to wind down, as do the chances that they will make up their deficit. After having lost to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, the Trail Blazers have put themselves in almost certain must-win mode for their last two games. Although the team would tell you that every game is a "must-win" at this point, they made things harder on themselves when they weren't able to put away Memphis. Tonight, they key will be Portland's point guards. Nobody would mistake Tony Parker for a defensive stopper, but the Trail Blazers' guards, specifically Lillard and Maynor have shown the ability to make plays and score. Lillard has been money against the Spurs so far this year, averaging 24.5 points per game in the two games against them. It will be interesting to see if or how the Spurs will adjust to Lillard this time around.  Lillard's play is often a good gauge of how the Trail Blazers are doing. As one could see against Memphis, the Trail Blazers' offense slowed down considerably after the first quarter, where Lillard scored 12 points. He went on to only score eight points after that, and the drop in the team's field goal percentage was unfortunately precipitous. Lillard and Maynor (12 points, four assists), who put up very good numbers in Memphis, will need to continue their play if the Trail Blazers want to escape San Antonio, a place where the road team has won only three times this season, with a win.

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