Mar 12, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) moves the ball against the defense of San Antonio Spurs guard Patrick Mills (8) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Playoffs: San Antonio Spurs vs Portland Trail Blazers Series Preview

San Antonio Spurs vs Portland Trail Blazers Series Preview

While most fans are focused on the high profile matchup on the other side of the bracket between OKC and L.A., the San Antonio-Portland matchup is flying a little under the radar right now. Not for long, though.

Once the Spurs and Trail Blazers meet on Tuesday night in San Antonio, the rest of the world will realize how good this series will be, offensively at least. Overall, these two teams don’t play the best defense, but for most fans, that’s all the better.

After battling Dallas for seven games, San Antonio has their hands full with Portland. The Blazers are the fresher team and play a similar style that just gave San Antonio so much trouble. I’d still give San Antonio the upper hand because of all their experience and the best coaching staff in the NBA, but Portland isn’t going to roll over.

This series is can’t-miss TV, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see seven games of back-and-forth, free-flowing, up-tempo basketball.

Why the Spurs will win:

Because they’re the Spurs, and that’s what they do. After surviving a first-round scare against their rival, the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio looks like they are ready to make that run to the NBA Finals. The Spurs are one of the deepest teams in the NBA, possibly the deepest. If one guy is having a bad night, they have at least five guys coming off the bench who can score from anywhere. San Antonio’s bench is the X-factor in the series, especially against Portland who typically only goes eight-deep. If the series drags on to Game 6 and 7, San Antonio should have fresher legs, which could be all the difference in the series.

The Spurs also have an advantage due to Portland’s inability to play good defense. In the first round between Portland and Houston, Portland allowed more than 100 points in almost every game. Based on Hollinger’s offensive ratings from ESPN, San Antonio is ranked just below Houston. Unless Portland finds a way to turn it up a few notches defensively, San Antonio should be able to have their way with the Blazers.

San Antonio presents so many problems for the Blazers. Unlike the Rockets, who used mostly ISOs to attack the Blazers, San Antonio will use its free-flowing, dribble-drive, pick-and-roll/pop offense to attack Portland’s defense. Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews are above average defenders and should do a decent job on San Antonio’s wing players, but Portland’s defensive weakness is Damian Lillard. If Parker and Mills can get into the paint, Portland’s defense will break down like we saw time after time in the first round.

Ultimately, San Antonio has too many weapons for the Blazers to handle, and that’s how they will beat the Blazers.

Why the Trail Blazers will win:

I’ve been saying this for months now, but I’ll say it again. There’s magic with Trail Blazers this season. They have all the pieces you could ever need to be a successful basketball team. As starting fives are concerned, Portland has one of the best in the league. They can go, and have gone, toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league this season, and they’re not afraid of anyone. They just bring it every night.

Portland’s bench is one of the worst in the league. Any injury or foul trouble makes it possible to lose any game, but the bench players they do use bring toughness and energy that’s relatively unmatched around the league. Most teams don’t have the luxury of a backup poing guard with experience like Portland has in Mo Williams. He’s made some huge shots this season, like his 3-pointer in overtime of Game 4, and played huge minutes for Portland against Houston in the last round. Typically, Portland uses Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright as the other two contributors off the bench.

In the box score, it doesn’t appear those guys are doing much to help the Blazers win, but when you actually watch the game, you can feel their energy giving Portland a boost. Whether it’s a block or contested shot, a offensive rebound, or an occasional big basket, Wright and Robinson are doing the dirty work for Portland while they give LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, and Robin Lopez a breather.

Portland might have the two best players, right now, on the floor in this series. Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili obviously have been better their entire careers, but Lillard and Aldridge are playing at a higher level right now. If Portland has any chance, Aldridge and Lillard will have to be the best two players in the series. As far as I can tell, that seems totally feasible as well.

Maybe last Friday night in Portland was the pinnacle of Portland’s magic. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Prediction: Portland wins in 7. 

Ultimately, Portland has the tools to create too many problems for San Antonio. Parker and Mills probably can’t guard Lillard and that will force Coach Pop to move Kawhi Leonard over to Lillard. That will create opportunities for Batum and Matthews, who would be guarded by either Parker or Mills.

With two relatively equal teams, the matchup problems for San Antonio will be too much for the Spurs to over come.

(I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. Here come the haters.)


Tags: NBA NBA Playoffs Portland Trail Blazers San Antonio Spurs Series Preview

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