Quick take: Spurs (18-5) vs. Trail Blazers (9-12)
Dec 8, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center J.J. Hickson (21) rebounds the ball against Sacramento Kings power forward Jason Thompson (34) at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA Today Sports
The Spurs will win if: The Blazers 25th-ranked defense, devoid of a dominant shot blocker, yields 27.3 attempts at the rim per game, the fourth highest such figure. The Spurs, meanwhile, are in the top 10 in attempts at the rim (26.5), converting on a stellar 68.8 percent. In their first meeting, a 112-109 Spurs victory, San Antonio outscored Portland by two points in the paint despite generating six fewer attempts. Expect San Antonio to control the interior again tonight — and if not, a loss is infintely more likely.
The Spurs will lose if: Portland generates turnovers. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and Wesley Mathews, each averaging over 37 minutes per game, account for about six steals per game. As a team, the Trail Blazers turn 15 percent of the opposition’s possessions into a turnover, seventh in the league. Creating transition opportunities prevents the Blazers — allowing too many shots at the rim and from beyond the arc, as it is — from extrapolating their defensive disadvantage even further. The Blazers are 5-5 when they force the oppositition into at least 16 turnovers, a shade over their average mark.
X-Factor: Hickson has been a habitually decent rebounder throughout his career; in his fifth season, however, he has been an elite rebounder. Measured against the rest of the league and Hickson is fourth in total rebounding percentage.
Developing a mid-range jumper — in which he’s making at a 55 percent rate this season — has allowed the generally one-dimensional Hickson to become a productive offensive asset for the Blazers. Though his usage rate is seventh on the team, Hickson is first in offensive rating and player efficiency rating. Impressive considering Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Mathews are each advanced offensive players in their own right.
The Spurs will not focus their attention on Hickson, because of Portland’s aforementioned scorers, so Hickson could be in line for another effecient offensive night.