With two teams that rank in the bottom 5 in fast-break points, this series would hinge on which team can better execute their half-court offense.
The Trail Blazers are an impressive 26-12 at Moda Center, and how Damian Lillard has responded this year to the mass exodus of his former starters is nothing short of inspiring. If Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard were not having such transcendent seasons on historically good teams, Lillard would be getting far more MVP buzz.
Lillard and his partner in crime, C.J. McCollum, give Portland possibly the NBA’s best backcourt besides Curry and Klay Thompson. He’s essentially a lock for most improved player, as he’s seen his points per game average skyrocket by 14 points compared to last season. Credit General Manager Neil Olshey for building a star backcourt by using lottery picks on two unproven guards from small schools (Lillard was from Weber State and McCollum was from Lehigh).
Al-Farouq Aminu has drastically improved his range this season. His smothering defense has been his biggest strength since entering the league, and he’d likely be tasked with the responsibility of trying to contain Leonard.
Mason Plumlee is a grinder inside, but they’ll miss Meyers Leonard’s presence as a stretch 4 pulling LaMarcus Aldridge away from the basket in a playoff series. Leonard has been ruled out for the Trail Blazers with a dislocated left shoulder.
The Trail Blazers don’t defend the 3 point shot very well, so the Spurs would be wise to fire from long distance more often in a Trail Blazers matchup. Danny Green has had a poor season shooting the ball from the perimeter, but this series could be his chance to make more of an offensive impact.
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Portland has a bad assist-to-turnover ratio, and generally don’t move the ball around as efficiently as you’d expect with a star point guard like Lillard at the helm. The Spurs can exploit this by playing the type of relentless defense that has distinguished them amongst the league.
The worry for the Spurs with this matchup is psychological momentum. The Trail Blazers had a great January and a scorching February, and while they cooled off a little in March, they’ve recovered from a horrendous start to be on the verge of a playoff berth.
The argument for the Trail Blazers making a dent in the playoffs focuses on their tremendous backcourt of Lillard and McCollum and the tenacity of the team to dig themselves out of a hole. Back in December, it seemed laughable that the Trail Blazers would be in the playoff discussion come April. This season was expected to be a rebuilding year for them after losing so much talent in the offseason, including LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs.
Green and Tony Parker are going to have their hands full containing the explosive and youthful backcourt of Portland. Lillard has a flair for the dramatic, and it isn’t hard to envision him pulling off some fireworks in the emotional return of Aldridge to Rip City.
While they don’t pose the same type of threat as the Jazz, this Trail Blazers team can’t be underestimated. A couple wins on their home court seem possible. An upset would be shocking, but Lillard is a fiery competitor who’ll make sure his team doesn’t go down quietly.