The Blazers come waltzing in tonight and when we look at our dance partner it will be a mirror image. The Blazers have a good record thanks to a home heavy schedule. They are 6-1 at home and 1-2 on the road. Will the teams play to form? Let’s hope so.
I’m not sure what to make of our team at this point. We are 7-0 at home, 0-4 on the road, playing terrible defense, and shooting really well. Manu it out so any longer term thoughts can be discerned from these games. T.J. Ford, our new backup point guard, it out 4-6 weeks so we won’t be able to get a good view of his value. If, in fact, he can get back healthy and continue learning the system. He and Manu should be back about the same time. Beginning of March.
For me, though, the most confounding thing has been Pop’s managing of Tony’s and Tim’s minutes. Not only did he play them in every game during a six games in eight nights stretch, he played them heavy minutes in both games five and six. I honestly have no idea what to make of this. Pop has historically stuck to his minute management strategy with the big three no matter what the circumstances early in the season. Two years ago, when the Spurs were fighting for a playoff spot, he started playing them more in the last 5-8 games. But, we just played game 11 and Tim is almost 36.
I’m not sure what Pop’s goal and/or thinking is here. And that’s not unusual. Pop never shares. However, I always feel I can at least rationalize his decisions. Put some motivation behind the moves that he makes. I can’t right now and that bothers me. I’m just not able to read the signs.
1. Song: Scorpio Rising by Thunderball
Thunderball is out of Thievery Corporation’s 18th Street Lounge (ESLMusic.com) stable of musicians. They’ve been around a long time, I’d say about 15 years, and I really like a lot of their old stuff. Prime Minister off of Ambassador’s of Style is a great one. But, for this game, I’m going with Scorpio Rising off of the album of the same name.
2. Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs ????
LaMarcus Aldridge will get his and we don’t have anybody that can stop him. So, I just fear him and don’t consider it a matchup at all. We can’t do anything with him.
But, I expect DeJuan to start and get torched. Then, I expect we’ll see a whole lot of Tiago Splitter on Aldridge. Tiago has the height and just might have the lateral quickness to be a tough cover for the stud. And make no mistake, Aldridge is the stud in this game.
3. Keeping An Eye On: Kawhi Leonard vs ????
Who will Pop throw Kawhi on? Wes Matthews, their perimeter sharpshooter and second leading scorer? Gerald Wallace, their wild card energizer? Jamal Crawford, their instant offense off the bench. The Blazers are deep on the wings when it comes to scoring threats, it will be interesting to see how Pop matches up with them personnel-wise.
4. Bold Prediction: The Spurs Snatch A Victory From The Jaws Of Defeat
This is a very good Blazers team. They’ve already beaten the Lakers, Clippers, Thunder, Nuggets, and Sixers with losses to the Clippers by five and the Magic by 3. Tonight is the start of a six-game road trip for them, and you know they will be focused on getting it started right. Expect a dogfight, as Pop seems to be putting a lot of value on some early wins. Gary Neal with the game winner in the last five seconds.
Odds and Ends
Big props to Tim Duncan for passing Larry Bird on the career scoring list. Tim is, with out a doubt, my favorite player of all time and I like seeing his name in the books with the likes of Bird.
Cory Joseph didn’t get off the bench the other night against the Rockets. I’m curious to see if that continues. He’s certainly not ready to play a lot of minutes in the NBA at the point, but I also don’t think Gary Neal is. It’s just not his natural position. The offense really struggled to move the ball with Gary in and Pop ended up playing Tony a ton of minutes with Neal at the two. Something will have to give. Either Cory or Gary is going to have to play some/more minutes at the point.
Kawhi’s energy and athleticism. Keep an eye on Kawhi over the next few games. I noticed something during the Rockets game that intrigued me. Right now, on defense, he is so focused on denying his man the ball that he’s not two other things. He’s not playing any help defense and he’s not rebounding. On offense, he seems concerned about taking the right shot and being in the right place. I think, for the moment, Pop is ok with this because he is putting Kawhi on the other team’s best shooter and that’s a win. But, in the fourth quarter and overtime, Kawhi seemed to get comfortable and started attacking the glass.
He got almost all of his rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime when he seemed to decide that he could do more than stand in front of his guy. As Kawhi gets comfortable, look for his rebounds, steals, and blocks to all take a big jump. His last rebound, the one under our basket in a mad scramble with the Rockets down three, was a phenomenal rebound in traffic. Historically, we’ve only had two guys that could get that rebound; Tim and Manu. Kawhi is such a good athlete that he was able to challenge shots in the paint and also snag that rebound. I’m calling that a HUGE show of value.