The San Antonio Spurs take on the Portland Trailblazers in what promises to be a great battle between the experience of San Antonio versus the upstart team from Rip City.
San Antonio were pushed to seven games by Dallas in the first round and looked, at times, vulnerable. However Greg Popovich’s men did what they always do, found a way to win.
The Blazers went into the series against Houston as underdog, yet surprised most fans when the took a commanding 3-1 lead, and eventually taking out the series. Portland was lead by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, as the two went to work against the Rockets defense.
Game 1 @ San Antonio, May 6
Game 2 @ San Antonio, May 8
Game 3 @ Portland, May 10
Game 4 @ Portland, May 12
Game 5 @ San Antonio, May 14 (if needed)
Game 6 @ Portland, May 16 (if needed)
Game 7 @ San Antonio, May 19 (if needed)
Points per game
San Antonio – 105.4
Portland – 106.7
Points allowed per game
San Antonio – 97.6
Portland – 102.8
Regular season record
San Antonio – 62-20
Portland – 54-28
How San Antonio will win
Luke Sicari– A model of success and consistency year after year, for the Spurs to win this series they basically need to do what they do best. Play suffocating defense, run a balanced offense and get contributions from everyone on the roster. And with Gregg Popovich running the show, I think it is a pretty safe bet that the Spurs will do all of those things, but where the Spurs will control this series, in which it seems there is a fair argument for which team has the advantage at each position, is at the shooting guard spot.
Wes Matthews is a very solid player for the Blazers but doesn’t compare to the playoff veteran and seemingly never-ageing Manu Ginobili. Wes is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and a very solid role player for the Blazers but he doesn’t bring the experience in playoff situations like Ginobili. Manu has been in this situation many times in his career and has all the tools to lead the Spurs to victory. While the Blazers can get 10-15 points a game out of Matthews, if the Spurs get at least 15-20 out of Ginobili, plus all of his wisdom in these situations, it will be a major factor in deciding this series.
Another way the Spurs will win this series is to STOP LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE. That was a lot easier to type then it is to actually do, as the Rockets found out first hand during the first round. Aldridge has easily been the best player so far in these playoffs by a mile. He is automatic from the mid-range and is unstoppable once he gets the ball in the post. Who will be guarding Aldridge? The future hall of famer Tim Duncan of course. This will be a match-up for the ages but while LA will get his 35 points, I think Duncan will have same tricks up his sleeve that will surprise Aldridge.
This series will be one of the closest in the second round but for the Spurs to win it, Manu will need to step up and the walking legend, Tim Duncan, will need to stop a rising superstar.
How Portland will win
Kane Neville– The key to the Blazers hopes lie with the one-two combo of Aldridge and Lillard. The Rockets had a hard time defending the pick and pop game of Aldridge. Aldridge has shown all season that you cannot let him pop out unguarded, he has a deadly mid range shot that makes if nearly impossible to guard. Lillard continued his amazing outside shooting in the first round shooting 48.9 percent from deep. This means Tony Parker will have to go around the screen, which in turn will open the court up for Aldridge to shoot an open shot.
The Blazers starting line-up has four players that can shoot the ball well. If these players can keep their shooting touch up, it will allow the offense to space the floor, resulting in a great chance at continuing their high scoring output. They shot on average 9.4 three pointers per game during the regular season and maintained that against the Rockets in the first round. With a heavy reliance on jumpers they can’t afford too many players getting into a slump.
Another key to Portland’s chances are Lopez staying out of foul trouble. With 2.7 blocks per game and countless shot changing acts he is the anchor on the defensive end and must remain out of foul trouble. If Lopez gets into trouble they will have to play Joel Freeland, who will really struggle against the bigs of San Antonio. Their defense this season has been spotty at best, and they gave up 112 points per game in the Houston series.
They have struggled against screens, and with Tony Parker running loops nearly every play, they will need to improve this area to nullify the Frenchman. They are reasonably slow team on defense as well, so they will have to work hard one on one and not allow the Spurs players to have too much of an advantage against their direct opponent. If San Antonio is forcing the defense to make rotation after rotation, Portland will have a hard time keeping up.
San Antonio are masters at the half court set, and Portland are going to have to do all these things, all series if they hope to beat Greg Popovich’s men.
Tony Parker vs Damian Lillard
Luke Sicari– In what could be the best point guard match-up of the second round, the young superstar Damian Lillard will match-up against the seasoned veteran Tony Parker. Lillard made a name for himself this season as a true superstar and became a part of NBA Playoff history, when he hit the game winner at the buzzer to send the Blazers into the second round. Parker was as steady as always, despite some slumps, during the Spurs first round match-up with Dallas. Parker is the floor general for the Spurs and whatever the Spurs do on offense, runs through him.
Lillard is a sensational shooter and can also get to the ring and finish at the basket. Parker uses his agility to get to the basket but can also hit a jumper if needed but not as consistent as Lillard. But both players may not be asked to dominant the scoring, as that may be left to LaMarcus Aldridge for Portland and Tim Duncan for San Antonio. The two are pretty evenly matched on the defensive side of the ball, so the offensive end is what will separate these two guards. Who will score when needed? Who will set up their teammates better? Who will push the tempo and go that extra mile for their team? This positional match-up is very tough to call but right now I am going to go with Parker, as he has been in these positions many times in his career and knows what he needs to do.
Advantage- San Antonio Spurs
Danny Green vs Wesley Matthews
Luke Sicari– I spoke earlier about how the Spurs have the advantage at the shooting guard spot with Manu Ginobili, but remember, Manu is coming off the bench. The player who will start at the shooting guard spot will be Danny Green and I still think the Spurs have the advantage at this spot. Green is a great shooter and a very solid defender and even though he had a rough first round, I think he is due to pick it up and return to his finals-form from last season. When Green is playing like he was during last season’s finals, he can put up 15 points in a heartbeat and can provide the Spurs with some great defense.
Matthews is a very solid player for Portland, like I said before. He can, like Green, shoot the 3 ball very well and can put up points quickly for the Blazers. When Matthews is hitting his shots, the Blazers become a much better and more balanced offensive team. The area where Green beats out Matthews is on the defensive end and you know what they say- defense wins championships.
Advantage- San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard vs Nicholas Batum
Luke Sicari– This is probably one of the most evenly matched match-ups you will ever see. Both Leonard and Batum can shoot the ball well, get to the basket, grab a rebound when needed and play great defense. Both players have gone under the radar as two of the most underrated players in the league today and both seem to be ok with that. These two players aren’t asked to score 30 points and grab 15 rebounds a night. As long as the two players are doing what the team requires them to do on a nightly basis, they’re ok with being the unsung heroes.
So who wins this battle? Leonard has had the experience of going deep in the playoffs, as he was a key to the Spurs finals run last season. Batum has seemed to be in Portland forever and always does what is required for the Blazers. In an extremely tough match-up to decide, I am again going to need to give the advantage to the Spurs, only due to Leonard’s playoff experience.
Advantage- San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan vs LaMarcus Aldridge
Kane Neville– The outcome of this matchup will go a long way to deciding who progresses to the Western Conference finals. Duncan has been such great player and leader for the spurs, and knows exactly what is needed to go all the way. Even though he is getting on in age, Duncan is as crafty as ever, and can score from most places on the floor. Against Dallas he averaged 17.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. While Parker is classed as the teams number 1 player now, Duncan can still take the game by the scruff and destroy opposition defences.
Aldridge is coming off a career year and had an amazing first series against Houston. Averaging 29.8 points per game he ignited the Blazers early on, and was the catalyst for their series win. He is a great shooter and, along with Lillard, is going to make it very tough for Duncan with their pick and roll game. In previous games this season Duncan has struggled against Aldridge, and I can’t see that changing, considering Aldridge’s form.
Advantage – Portland
Tiago Splitter vs Robin Lopez
Kane Neville– This is an intriguing battle. Both are less heralded as the other members of their front court, yet their energy is a valuable tool for their team. Lopez has been a revelation for the Blazers. He has provided that rim protection that Portland have needed, and has provided a spark for the team on many occasions. Averaging 2.7 blocks per game, he will be pivotal to Portland efforts at stopping the Spurs offense.
Splitter is similar, in that he provides a lot of energy and covers the defense well. He has been a player that has benefitted a lot from Popovich’s system, and is reliable when needed. While Lopez is a better rim Protector, Splitter is able to score the ball at a better rate then Lopez, and still is a reliable defender.
Advantage – San Antonio
San Antonio bench vs Portland Bench
Kane Neville– This matchup is probably the one with the biggest discrepancy. Portland rely heavily on their starters and play them big minutes. They have Mo Williams as sixth man, who has been great this season. The only other player that would have any impact is Thomas Robinson. While Portland’s Bench players have had moments, they have been few and far between.
The Spurs may just have the best second unit in the league. They are led by Manu Ginobli, who has on many occasions performed in the playoffs. Then you have Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli behind him. All players are capable of lighting up the scoreboard and have solid defensive skills. The San Antonio bench allow their starters to get plenty of rest, which is invaluable during the playoffs. Expect the Spurs bench to have a big impact during this series.
Advantage – San Antonio
Luke Sicari– This is one of the most intriguing match-ups in the second round, as it pits an up and coming Blazers team against the veteran Spurs. In a series that I think will be extremely close, I am going to have to go with the Spurs, as they will advance to another Western Conference Finals.
Kane Neville– This matchup has been very difficult to predict. The Spurs have the experience and know what it takes. On the other hand the Blazers are playing great basketball and are an offensive beast. I think the play of Aldridge and Lillard may be just a little too much for San Antonio. Portland in seven.