The San Antonio Spurs are 5-13 against the Portland Trail Blazers since 2009. They've been a problem, even though this year's team has only two hold overs from the 2008-09 team (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum).
The Blazers have outscored their opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions this season — the sixth best margin in the league. They've been a thorn in the Spurs' side for the last four years, and they are even better this year.
A quick glance at the offensive rating in these 18 matchups:
Spurs: 108.6 points (per 100 possessions)
Blazers: 113.2 points (per 100 possessions)
But the Golden State Warriors, eighth in point differential, are the tougher matchup for the Spurs. This isn't a #HOTSPORTSTAKE by any means, but
I've received some push back on Twitter with this assertion.
The main argument: "The Blazers just seem to have our number."
That is a totally valid argument and it does hold some weight because, well, I just showed you. Portland is certainly a tough matchup — for one, they score a league-high 110.3 points per 100 possessions; two, Aldridge and Damian Lillard are very good; three, they're freaking Portland.
Portland could take the Spurs to six games and I wouldn't be surprised. Maybe they stretch it to seven. Golden State, meanwhile, has a high enough ceiling to beat the Spurs in a seven-game series. This is not to say they are better than the Spurs — which I don't think is true — but they have enough offensive punch and a defense with three plus defenders (Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson) equipped to defend Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard in a pinch. David Lee and Stephen Curry are defensive liabilities, but the Warriors can hide them on Tiago Splitter, a dangerous pick-and-roll big, and Danny Green, a high-volume 3-point sniper. It's not ideal, but they can expect reasonable success in this area.
Portland's defensive rotations are less concrete. Batum is a rangy defender; he'd likely draw Kawhi in a playoff series. They'll funnel Parker into Robin Lopez, the best rim protector on the team, and cross their fingers. Aldridge and Lillard are minuses defensively, and Wesley Matthews may have to switch on to Parker to alleviate Lillard's defensive burden.
Portland's bench, while improved, isn't a strength. They have two lineups with over 100 minutes — the starting lineup, with 763 minutes, and the starting lineup with Mo Williams replacing Lillard. That is, for the most part, the look they'll throw at you. It's a good look, mind you, but in a seven-game series, the Spurs will be able to snuff out Portland's motion offense — or, at the very least, leverage their strengths against them.
Portland scores 22.6 percent of their points on mid-range shots, the second-highest percentage in the league. Aldridge has attempted 143 more mid-range shots than the next highest guy (Dirk Nowitzki). These aren't "good" shots in the literal sense, but they have a higher expected value when Aldridge is the guy shooting. The Spurs, like any smart defense, will yield these shots and terminate the higher value shots from their diet. Odds are Portland still scores a lot of points.
Golden State can trot out their #FULLSQUAD — the best five-man lineup in basketball — or go small with Iguodala at power forward or, wait, they have Harrison Barnes and, wait, Draymond Green can play there, too. Each player gives them a different look. The Warriors acquired Jordan Crawford and Marshon Brooks to give Curry less of a shot creating burden; they have enough scoring punch to buy Curry some valuable rest.
Not to mention: Golden State is way better defensively. Portland is 21st in points allowed per possession — in the last 20 games, they've been worse (25th). The Blazers are heaping rim protection responsibility on Lopez, who has never averaged 30+ minutes until this season. Their defense falls off a cliff when he sits. Golden State has been a top-five unit all year; that, and not their offense, is their strength.
The Spurs are tough to beat and, much like beating a professional poker player in Texas Hold 'em, you have to be comfortable check-raising, re-raising on a bluff and check-calling to the river — just to avoid them figuring you out.
The Warriors will stretch the Spurs to their limits. Portland can too, but the Spurs will eventually figure them out.
– The Blazers' starting lineup (Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, Lopez) have traveled 464.9 miles this season, according to SportVU — 12.2 miles per game, which is almost a half-marathon EVERY GAME.
– Parker leads the Spurs with 85.5 miles traveled. He'd be fourth on the Blazers.
– Alridridge's field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts (50.4 percent) is fourth in the league, among players shooting 3+ per game.
– Aldridge has scored 452 points on mid-range shots. Manu Ginobili has 452 points total.
– Portland scores 1.09 points each time Lillard drives to the hoop. Lillard is shooting just 31 percent on drives, though.