As the San Antonio Spurs and Portland trail Blazers get set to clash tonight, Project Spurs' Quixem Ramirez spoke with Blazers blogger Dane Carbaugh of A Young Sabonis to breakdown the game.
Portland is 7-8 in their last 15 games, and they've been crushed defensively (27th in DefRtg) in that span. Is this trend worrisome?
Absolutely. They've really struggled lately and it's in large part to their fairly mundane strategy on defense and their lack of execution. They play really low ICE pick-and-roll defense and it's meant they've given up a lot of midrange jumpers rather than simply forcing them. That's a key difference I don't think they've realized yet and it's really hurt them since mid-January. Percentage-wise, they are a top three team in defending the rim which sounds great on paper. However, opponents are taking the second-most shots at the rim against them in the league while shooting 55 percent. Their defense is so porous that they are relying on their posts to try and help defend at the rim from the wing instead of using their help defense as a last resort. I honestly do think they need to play tighter off the pick-and-roll but I doubt Terry Stotts makes that change.
But, that being said, the Blazers have won four straight against the Spurs. Do you think the Spurs are a "good" matchup for this Blazers team?
I think the Spurs are constructed in a way that the Blazers can matchup with. These two teams are physically built very similar, and the big difference between them is usually who can step up their defense, or whose offensive talents and weapons can get going on any one night. The Spurs and the Trail Blazers don't have the same talents, obviously, and games between them are games of momentum. I think a Spurs-Blazers first round matchup is one Portland would welcome. It's not like anyone they're going to face in the West is going to be easy, they might as well go against a team they have at least some experience with.
Without LaMarcus Aldridge tonight, is a win against the Spurs realistic?
Not only is Portland missing LaMarcus Aldridge, their All-Star and leader, they're missing two backup F/C players in Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard. That's a big problem considering it leaves the Blazers with Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver. Robinson has improved over the course of the season, moving the ball better on offense where before he was a black hole. That doesn't change the fact he has happy feet as a defender, and falls for any solid head, shoulder or pump fake. Duncan is going to teach him a lesson Wednesday night, which is good for him to learn from. Expect to see a lot of small-ball lineups with Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright playing the 4.
Having said all that, I predict the Blazers lose by 11.