Trail Blazers-Spurs Preview
Though Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers were dominated by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, they’ve gained a small measure of revenge with two victories this season.
They’ll look to inch closer to their first regular-season series sweep of the Spurs in 18 years Friday night when they visit San Antonio.
Portland reached the playoffs in 2013-14 for the first time in three seasons, but was ousted in the second round by top-seeded San Antonio in five games. The Spurs’ four wins came by an average of 19.5 points. Lillard was 4 for 23 from 3-point range in the series after shooting 39.4 percent during the regular season, while Aldridge shot 40.2 percent from the field in the four losses.
Both have excelled in recent regular-season meetings, however, and the Trail Blazers are 6-2 against the Spurs when Lillard and Aldridge both play. Lillard has averaged 27.8 points on 50.0 percent shooting in nine meetings, his best and second-best marks versus one opponent, respectively. Aldridge’s 56.5 career field-goal percentage at San Antonio is his highest on the road against one team, averaging 25.4 points in his last five visits.
Portland won the first two meetings this season, most recently a 129-119 triple-overtime victory in San Antonio on Dec. 19. Lillard scored a career-high 43 while Aldridge had 32 points and 16 rebounds. Tim Duncan had 32 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs.
The Trail Blazers (30-9) have won 15 of the last 21 regular-season meetings, but they haven’t swept the series since 1996-97. The final matchup this season is Feb. 25 in Portland.
They lost for the third time in 16 games Wednesday, 100-94 to the Clippers despite Aldridge’s 37 points and 12 rebounds. Lillard was 5 of 16 from the floor and Portland was 6 of 26 from 3-point range, making its fewest in 15 games.
Of the Trail Blazers’ 15 games before the All-Star break, nine are on the road, including seven of the next 10. They follow Friday’s matchup with a visit to fellow division leader Memphis on Saturday.
"We’re almost halfway through (the season)," coach Terry Stotts told the team’s official website. "We’re going to be playing more Western Conference teams that are kind of in the playoff hunt in the second half of the season. So there are going to be more and more of these type of games going forward."
The Spurs (24-16) are seventh in the West, but their 7-9 record since Dec. 15 ranks 12th. Five of those seven wins came by seven points or fewer, including Wednesday’s 98-93 victory at Charlotte.
San Antonio is hoping to take advantage of a 10-game stretch that includes eight at home before its nine-game rodeo trip.
"Nothing seems to be easy for us this year," said Manu Ginobili, who had 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. "We are playing a lot of close games. But we are learning from it."
Ginobili’s 42.6 field-goal percentage is the third-lowest of his career, though he’s shooting 51.0 percent in his last 11 games. He shot 5 of 17 for 11 points in his only matchup with Portland this season after averaging 8.6 points on 28.6 percent shooting in the West semis.
Tony Parker averaged 23.0 points in the first four games of that series before missing most of Game 5 with an injury, and he’s been out for both meetings this season with a strained hamstring. He has played in five straight games after missing 14 of the previous 19, but has averaged 9.2 points on 37.7 percent shooting with 14 turnovers and 11 assists.
It’s possible Spurs leading scorer Kawhi Leonard returns after missing 15 games with an injured hand, saying early Friday he is "ready to go" for this game. He’s been cleared to play and is listed as probable, but coach Gregg Popovich will make the decision about whether to play him shortly before tip-off.
Leonard, averaging 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds, has been shooting for the past week and was actively working on his shot during Friday morning’s shootaround.
"It feels good," Leonard said. "It’s back to almost 100 percent. It’s good. No pain."