After defeating the Houston Rockets on Wednesday in a game where the majority of their starters played over 30 minutes on back-to-back nights, the San Antonio Spurs return to action Friday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers looking to stay undefeated at the AT&T Center.
The Blazers come into San Antonio after falling to the Orlando Magic 107-104 on Wednesday, they’re ranked second in the Western conference by record (7-3) while also bringing the league’s fourth ranked offense, as they average 100.1 points per game. Their defense however, is ranked in the middle of the league as they allow their opponents to score an average of 95 points per game.
The Spurs have their own high scoring offense as they’re ranked third in the NBA with an average of 100.9 points per game. The ball is also spread around as the team is ranked second in assists (23.5 assists per game), 11 games into the season. The Spurs are ranked fourth in the Western conference by record (7-4).
Though the Spurs’ defense looked a bit more solid against the Rockets on Wednesday, head coach Gregg Popovich made a comment before the game regarding the Spurs’ defense thus far.
“You can start looking at it, we’re in the twenties,” said Popovich. “High twenties in field goal percentage allowed and low twenties in points allowed. That just won’t get anything done. That will portend a very mediocre basketball season.”
Popovich’s words are exactly replicated in the Spurs’ stats as the team allows their opponents to score an average of 96.7 points per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.
What the Blazers do well
Free throw shooting: The Blazers shoot free throws extremely well with an average of 81% from the foul line. That ranks as first in the entire league. In fact, none of Portland’s top six players shoot below 76% from the free throw line.
Passing: The Blazers get the ball moving as they are tied for tenth place in the league with an average of 21.6 assists. Attribute that statistic to new point guard Raymond Felton who averages seven assists per game for the Blazers.
What the Spurs do well
Shooting the ball: The Spurs are ranked seventh in the league with an average field goal percentage of 46.6%. They’re ranked second in three point field goal percentage at 41.5%, most of which is attributed to Richard Jefferson’s 55.6% average to start the season.
Limit turnovers: For a team missing its most lethal playmaker in Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are ranked 27th in the league with an average of 12.9 turnovers per game. Of course, if you’ve watched some of their most recent games, their worst turnovers have been coming in crunch time with the example of Tony Parker being stripped by Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, and Tim Duncan being called for an offensive foul late in the fourth quarter against Houston.
What the Spurs need work on
Opponent field goal percentage: As Popovich mentioned, the team needs work on the defensive end in making teams shoot a low percentage. As shown the last three quarters and the overtime period against the Rockets, the Spurs were able to make their opponents shooting steadily decline. The inclusion of Kawhi Leonard in the starting lineup and fourth quarter lineup should help in decreasing opponent’s field goal percentages.
Rebounding: As evidenced against Houston, the Spurs' lack of size is shown, as teams are able to secure offensive rebounds and provide second chance scoring opportunities. The team is currently ranked 22nd in the league with an average of 40.6 rebounds per game. With Leonard earning more minutes, the team should begin to make minor improvements in the rebounding department.
Free throws: As is the case almost every season with the Spurs, free throws are still a problem. The team is ranked 21st in the NBA with an average of 72% free throw shooting. In the Milwaukee game, missed free throws were a key element in why the team lost.
Projected lineups (starters underlined)
Spurs: Tony Parker (15.6 points, 7.3 assists, 44% FG),
Kawhi Leonard (7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals)
Gary Neal (10.7 points, 33% 3PT)
James Anderson, Cory Joseph
Blazers: Raymond Felton (10.7 points, 7 assists)
Wesley Matthews (16 points, 1.3 steals)
Jamal Crawford (13.5 points, 1.1 steals)
Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Armon Johnson
Spurs: Richard Jefferson (13.5 points, 56% 3PT)
Danny Green (6.8 points, 48% 3PT)
Blazers: Gerald Wallace (15.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals)
Nicolas Batum (10.6 points)
Spurs: Tim Duncan (12.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks)
DeJuan Blair (10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds)
Tiago Splitter (6.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks),
Matt Bonner (36% 3PT)
Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge (22.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 49% FG)
Marcus Camby (8.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks)
Kurt Thomas, Craig Smith, Chris Johnson, Luke Babbitt
Spurs: Manu Ginobili (fractured 5th metacarpal), T.J. Ford (torn left hamstring)
Blazers: Greg Oden (left knee)
Spurs offense: Parker takes 13.9 shots, Duncan takes 11.4 shots, Neal takes 10.2 shots, Jefferson takes 9.5 shots, and Blair takes 8.5 shots per game.
Blazers offense: Aldridge takes 18.6 shots, Crawford takes 12.1 shots, Matthews takes 11.7 shots, Wallace takes 11.2 shots, Felton takes 11 shots, and Batum takes 8.6 shots per game.
Without Ginobili, this Trail Blazers team could give the Spurs fits on defense. They have a multitude of weapons that can attack from almost every position on the floor, not to mention their length in the wing and frontcourt. If you take out Ginobili and Ford's combined averages of 21.6 points per game, you'll see that the Spurs really only average 94.2 points per game withthe current healthy roster they boast now. That's almost a six point advantage Portland will have on the team.
The Spurs will not only need another big night from Parker and Duncan, but they will need someone to put on the Ginobili-cape and then someone else to be the fourth phantom Spur.
Will it be Blair, Jefferson, or Leonard from the starting lineup? Or could it be someone off the bench like Green, Neal, Bonner, or Splitter?
At 7:30 PM CST, we'll see if four of those players will be able to step in on this Friday night.
If you want instant news regarding players, coaches, and live events at Spurs home games, follow Michael De Leon and Paul Garcia on Twitter. They work to bring you the fastest news before it hits the official Project Spurs site.
In previous games where ther spurs lost, the missing links were Anderson, Blair and Splitter. If they contribute tonight, the spurs may win. Tonight, Jseph and Thomas will be tested. Hope coach Pops give them the chance to show off their wares. Anderson? After 2 years he has not shown anything. Maybe tonight is the night or d-league beacons. No more alibi of injury.