Trail Blazers vs Spurs Thursday, 12/13/12 AT 07:30PM

Trail Blazers Welcome Spurs For Second Time

  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    There are few better tests for teams than when the San Antonio Spurs come to town. Thursday is the second and final time the Spurs (18-4)  will come to the Rose Garden this season. The last game went down to the wire in an exciting, high-scoring game. The Spurs eventually prevailed by executing their plays well down the stretch and getting to the foul-line when they needed to. The Trail Blazers (9-12) still have uncertainty about the status of Wesley Matthews (hip) and Nicolas Batum (back), nonetheless, the best team in the Western Conference comes to town Thursday night. That game will be broadcast on TNT at 7:30 PM and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    All stats and records current as of 5:00 PM December 12, 2012

    •    It's really hard to talk about what to expect from the Spurs during the regular season, mainly because their head coach Gregg Popovich changes his line-ups and rotations from game-to-game. In the previous meeting between these two teams, Tony Parker was a late scratch from the line-up and former Trail Blazer Patty Mills was given the start. With the Spurs coming to Portland on the second half of a back-to-back, it's hard to determine which Spurs will show up to play at the Rose Garden. The game on Thursday is also the third game of four the Spurs will play in five nights. In the previous meeting it was the Spurs bench, mainly Gary Neal, that made the difference. Down the stretch, Neal got hot and scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half. However, during that game, the Spurs did play two players that won't be in action on Thursday in Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Leonard and Jackson are both quality defenders against forwards and it didn't seem to matter as Nicolas Batum was on fire for most of the game, scoring 35 points. Batum missed a three for the Trail Blazers late in the game that would have given the Trail Blazers a late lead but it did not go down.
    •    The last match-up between these two teams was probably the most entertaining game the Trail Blazers have played this year in regulation.  The Spurs won 112-109 but Batum (35), LaMarcus Aldridge (29) and Damian Lillard (20) all had good offensive performances. It was a tough game, but the Trail Blazers allowed the Spurs to shoot far too high a percentage (57.1 percent). Portland shot over 45 percent from three in that game as well. However, one thing that has happened since this game is that the Trail Blazers bench players have started to contribute more on the offensive end. The Trail Blazers big-time scorers start the game, while the Spurs have a host of guys who can put the ball in the hoop that start and come off the bench. Tiago Splitter has become one of the league's most efficient post scorers and Gary Neal can get hot at any time while other shooters like Matt Bonner, Mills and Nando De Colo can spread the floor. The Spurs bench is full of scorers with their own unique skill sets. Also, they have versatile guards who can defend many positions. Danny Green shut down Jeremy Lin down the stretch in their victory on Monday night. When asked if he expected Green to pick up Damian Lillard, Stotts responded by saying "Pop will do anything."
    •    Given the depth of the Spurs, the Trail Blazers will need a healthy Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Batum had multiple visits to a chiropractor and said his back felt better at practice on Tuesday. He practiced on Wednesday but Wesley Matthews did not practice for the second straight day. They did a nice job in a platoon effort against the Raptors, but the Raps were decimated by injuries to key players and the fact they had lost four straight road games. If Parker does play, having Batum will be a big weapon for Coach Stotts. Batum has become a specialist in guarding point guards and if Damian Lillard has trouble against the great guard, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Batum slide over to guard him.  If Parker does suit up, this will be Lillard's first match-up against him. Matthews, even though his hip is still a work in progress, is also needed. The Spurs have not only a top-five defense but a top-five offense and Batum and Matthews help the Trail Blazers on both ends. They are able to help spread the floor with their shooting for Lillard's drives or Aldridge post-ups and they are able to guard the variety of different offensive weapons the Spurs boast on the perimeter. Sasha Pavlovic had a great game and after Stotts says that Claver plays the game "the right way." It will be interesting if he goes to those two players on the wings again because although Batum may be back, there are about 36 minutes normally reserved for Wesley Matthews that need to be filled.  Against a veteran team like the Spurs, trusting in more experienced wings like Claver (who's played in big international games) and Pavlovic might be a smart move. You just have to hope they hit some threes after their historic 0-20 night on Monday. Even Coach Stotts joked on Tuesday that he would have hit one had he been playing.
    •    The match-up between Duncan and Aldridge will be fun. Tim Duncan, as if he didn't have a long enough resume, is looking better than he has in five years. Duncan is averaging almost a double-double (17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds) and he is averaging 2.4 blocks per game. Duncan has not averaged over 2 blocks per game since the 2006-07 season. Whatever Duncan was doing in the offseason, it has worked. "How he goes about his craft has gotten him to this point, to be able to do what he is doing," said Stotts about Duncan's play this year.  Aldridge has been rebounding and getting to the free-throw line more in the last three games. Both Aldridge (+16.1) and Duncan's (+10) on court/off court ratings, are double-digit positives for their teams according to Duncan, at 36 years of age and his 15th NBA season, is third in the league in player efficiency rating. Duncan is one of the all-time greats and his battle against Aldridge is a classic battle of Western Conference power forwards. Aldridge has been labeled by some in the media as "soft," but general manager Neil Olshey came out to defend Aldridge this week. Coach Stotts was on Trail Blazers Courtside on Monday and pointed out that Aldridge is one of four players in the NBA averaging over 20 points and eight rebounds per game along with Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and LeBron James.

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