San Antonio Spurs: A guard focused battle with Portland

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers drives to the basket for layup against the San Antonio Spurs. (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers drives to the basket for layup against the San Antonio Spurs. (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs sit near the top of the Western Conference and will look to maintain their position as they host the Portland Trail Blazers in what is sure to be an exciting matchup.

After pulling out back to back close wins to start the season, the San Antonio Spurs sit near the top of the Western Conference. While they look down on the competition, for now, the Spurs are well aware of the work they still have to do to become the team they’re capable of being. Despite their perfect record, this team could just as easily be winless.

It could just be early season jitters but San Antonio hasn’t looked like themselves in the first two games of the season. Inconsistent offense and sloppy turnovers have plagued the Spurs and made games that should have been easy wins in theory, uncomfortably close. These issues need to be resolved quickly as the team prepares for one of its toughest weeks of the season.

The Rodeo Road trip is typically looked been the litmus test for how good a Spurs team can be in a given year. It’s a brutal slog of road games that push the team to come together over the course of the extended time away from home. This week isn’t quite up to that level but it is a tough early test. The week kicks off with the Portland Trail Blazers coming to San Antonio.

Portland is coming to San Antonio on the heels of an impressive 121-119 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. In that contest, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum showed why the Blazers invested hundreds of millions of dollars into keeping the duo in the Northwest for the foreseeable future. The two combined for 63 points and helped Portland build on their strong start to the season.

Containing the Trail Blazers star duo is the key to victory in tonight’s matchup. Lillard and McCollum are rare talents who can take over a game in a heartbeat if you’re not careful. Lillard has shown time and time again that when he wants to set the clock to “Dame time” there isn’t much a defender can do to stop him.

Dejounte Murray has been a consistent bright spot for the Spurs thus far. His offensive game continues to look more and more advanced. However, as impressive as his offense has been, it’s on the defensive end of the floor that Murray has made his impact most felt. Although it comes from a small sample size, San Antonio’s starkly contrasting defensive ratings when Murray is on the floor compared to when he is off of it are telling of the tremendous impact that he has.

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The Spurs post an impressive defensive rating of 101 when Murray is on the floor. That number skyrockets to 118.5 when he is on the bench. That kind of impact is rare for any player, and especially so for a perimeter defender. Against Portland and a point guard that some consider the best in the game, Murray will have to be at his absolute best.

The other starting matchup between McCollum and Bryn Forbes is sure to be an exciting one. Both are score-first guards who can light it up from outside. This matchup may take a backseat to the duel between Lillard and Murray but is by no means any less important.

The last guard battle to focus on will be the contest between the two teams bench leaders. Portland’s combination of Kent Bazemore and Anfernee Simons against Derrick White and Patty Mills is the second unit showcase to keep your eye on. The Trail Blazers are very high on Simons. He balled out in the summer league but has been hot and cold to start the season.

Derrick White is in for a big night. Not only does he have to help lead the Spurs bench unit and corral Simons, but as Murray is still working on a minutes restriction as he works his way back, White will have to guard Lillard as well. If he can play up to the competition, as he often does, the Spurs will be able to come away with a win. However, if Lillard is able to catch fire when Murray goes to the bench then San Antonio will be hard-pressed to walk away victorious.

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Tonight’s guard focused matchup is just the first in a series of games that are going to really test the Spurs. It’s a great opportunity for San Antonio to make a statement win over one of the better teams in the Western Conference.