The Portland Trailblazers will once again be one of the top teams in the West. They split the season series with the San Antonio Spurs last year. Will San Antonio be able to take the series this time around?
While some contenders in the Western Conference made league altering moves to put themselves into title contention, the Portland Trailblazers held back. There will be some new faces on this season’s Blazers squad but the star power will remain the same.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will both be with the Blazers for the foreseeable future. These two have given the Spurs problems in the past. Last year there was only one game in which San Antonio was able to hold one of McCollum or Lillard under 30 points. Taking the season series begins and ends with shutting down these two.
Both the Blazers and the Spurs hold two of the strongest home-court advantages in the league. The Moda Center has been a tough place to steal a win for years now. But it’s no AT&T Center.
These two teams split the series 2-2 throughout the 2018-19 season. Both squads maintained a homecourt advantage and took their respective losses on the road.
The Spurs open the series by hosting Portland on October 28th. The Blazers will serve as the first of a difficult stretch of opponents to test the Spurs early on. The next three games after facing Portland come against the Clippers, Warriors, and Lakers.
The Blazers did make a few moves over the summer. Let’s review what they did in the off-season and who the Spurs will be taking on this year.
Next: The 2019-2020 Portland Trailblazers
The 2019-20 Portland Trailblazers
The Portland Trailblazers biggest move of the off-season was locking in their two stars for the foreseeable future. Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum received hefty paydays over the summer. Lillard agreed to a 4-year supermax deal worth a whopping $196 million. His running mate, McCollum also cashed in for 3-years $100 million.
Portland also took part in the multi-teamed sign-and-trade agreement that took place to get Jimmy Butler to Miami. Their taking, Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside will provide a valuable inside presence while Jusef Nurkic recovers from injury. Whiteside’s rim-protecting ability will instantly elevate the Blazers and give them someone to count on down low.
On the wing, the Blazers re-signed Rodney Hood and brought in Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezojna. Bazemore comes in as a reliable three-point shooter and defender. Herzonja appeared to have finally found his game towards the end of the last season with the Knicks. If he can consistently provide that level of offense he will be an interesting sparkplug off the bench.
One of the biggest revelations for the summer and a potentially huge difference-maker for the Blazers has been the development of Anfernee Simons. He hardly played last year for Portland but made people take note of his game in Summer League.
One of Portland’s weaknesses over the past couple of years has been their tendency to lose control of the game when both McCollum and Lillard are off the court. If Simons can be a steadying force for the Blazers off the bench he can change their plan of attack.
On the rookie side of things, Portland added Nasir Little out of the University of North Carolina. Little projects similarly to be a strong defender right off the bat, much like Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson. Little doesn’t have much an offensive game currently but he should give forwards like Rudy Gay a problem.
The Blazers didn’t add too many new players. The general makeup of the team is more or less the same. Taking the season series will start with the same focus as previous years, neutralizing the powerful backcourt of Lillard and McCollum.
Next: How to beat the Blazers
Beating the Blazers
If the Spurs want to take the season series against the Blazers they have to limit the impacts of Lillard and McCollum. Much easier said than done. Lillard is a stone-cold killer and McCollum has one of the deepest arsenals of scoring moves in the league. Luckily, the Spurs have the perfect men for the job.
Dejounte Murray and Derrick White may very well be the best defensive backcourt in the Western Conference. If there is a duo in the West capable of locking down these two stars it’s these two. Muray was an All-Defensive Team member the last time we saw him play and White should have received consideration last year.
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Playing in an individual game in the regular season is vastly different than a full seven-game playoff series. Even still, Golden State’s success at containing the Blazers in last seasons post-season matchup should provide some sort of blueprint for success. It starts with blitzing Lillard at every opportunity.
Murray needs to be glued to Lillard’s hip every for basically the entire game. It’s difficult to do, Lillard is adept at weaving through screens. However, Murray, with his 6’10 wingspan, should hopefully be able to recover if he ever does get lost. White will have a similar task with McCollum. Forcing the ball out of the hands of these two is essential.
On offense, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will be the points of focus. Bazemore is a solid defender but DeRozan still has the edge there. And for all of the credit that Nasir Little has received for his defensive abilities, he’s still not ready to handle a wily veteran like DeMar.
I think Murray will give Lillard problems on offense. He’s fast and much longer, he should be able to get around or by Lillard. He will also be counted on to control the pace of the game. This game cannot devolve into a shootout. In a fast-moving run and gun game, the shooting ability of the Blazers backcourt would give them a considerable edge.
Season Picks: Spurs take the series 2-1. San Antonio lucked out this year and has a two to one advantage in home games in this year’s series. The Spurs should be able to take this one.