Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail Blazers
All but four teams participated in last night’s busy NBA schedule, among them: the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs’ gracious hosts for tonight’s nationally-televised TNT game.
Playing their fifth game in seven nights (four on the road), on the wrong end of a back-to-back on the road, perhaps the greatest subplot to tonight’s game is how many minutes the San Antonio Spurs key players get on the court; especially given the Spurs recent history with rest, TNT, and David Stern.
A road weary Spurs team, combined with their own rest and an extra day to heal, is an advantage the Trail Blazers sorely need.
Nicolas Batum (back) and Wesley Matthews (hip) are listed as questionable, meaning the remaining starters will likely have to carry an even heavier load than they’re already burdened with.
The Trail Blazers, you see, have no depth. None. This is a team that gives 12 minutes a night to Sasha Pavlovic, whose only redeeming resume quality is NBA Finals experience dating back to 2007 (and the Spurs had little trouble with him then).
Four of the Trail Blazers’ five starters average more than 37 minutes a game. The fifth, J.J. Hickson, is spared such a workload due, in equal parts, to his own limitations and the fact that perhaps their only respectable bench player—rookie Meyers Leonard—plays behind him.
All five starters are at, or above, the league average in Player Efficiency Ratings (PER), with Leonard and Luke Babbit a few points below, and a huge drop off in quality beyond that. This is a team that is last in the NBA in bench scoring (15.3 ppg) with a bench not particularly loaded with quality defensive players.
And the team does little to help their situation. Their pace is slow, ranked 22nd in the NBA, and they get few points in the paint. For a team with such a talent deficit outside their top five, they do little to make things easier on themselves.
And yet, on any given night, they can be a threat to the Spurs.
The Damian Lillard-LaMarcus Aldridge pick-and-roll is still in its infancy, but Aldridge has always hurt the Spurs with his ability to space the floor just beyond the Spurs bigs’ ability to recover to him. Lillard can get to the rim, even if he sometimes struggles to finish (52.8%) and he shoots a respectable 36.7% behind the 3-point line, with many coming above the break and more than half coming unassisted.
Still, there are a lot of factors the Trail Blazer need to fall just perfect for a win against the Spurs. Rest is one of them. But if even one of Batum or Matthews are absent, the depth won’t be there to matter.
With everyone on board, I would expect the Trail Blazers’ starters to keep the game relatively close before the Spurs superior depth ripped the game open. Tonight? A heavy workload for the Spurs bench and some rest on TNT earned the good old fashioned way.