So, you’re the Portland Trail Blazers and your star point guard has just hit a game-winning shot that launched him into superstardom among Portland fans — feeling good? Welp, to blatantly steal from Larry David, you should probably curb that enthusiasm because the San Antonio Spurs are your second-round prize.
This is the Blazers’ first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 2000. In that same span, their second round foe has won three NBA championships — bit of an experience disparity? I would think so. Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal put it best today on Twitter with this tidbit of information:
Portland as a franchise has played in 218 playoff games. Tim Duncan has played in 218 playoff games by himself. Thats nuts.
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) May 5, 2014
Quite telling, yet not damning for the Blazers in the least. Sure the Spurs have much more experience but Portland certainly has youth on their side. Many have made the argument that Portland’s bench is too weak to compete with the complexities that Coach Poppovich is sure to throw at the Blazers in this series. I tend to agree, but that doesn’t mean the starters can’t continue to carry the load.
Portland had only three different starting lineups all season, so they are very durable and the starters are used to playing big minutes also — they all averaged 30+ minutes per game. To continue with the theme four of their five starters played all 82 games; the only one not to do so was LaMarcus Aldridge who missed 13 games due to injury. The average age of the Blazers’ starters is a mere 25.8 years old and their “veteran leader” is an old, but wise 28 years young (Aldridge).
The Spurs, on the other hand, do things a little differently and thus they didn’t even have ONE player on their roster that even played in all 82 games — however, that is by design. Coach Gregg Popovich is known to rest his players throughout the season in hopes that they are energized when they need to be — the playoffs. None of the Spurs’ starters averaged more than 30 minutes played per game this season, not one. Their average age is almost five years older than the Blazers at 29.8 years old, and their very own Yoda is a 38-year-old in Duncan who is arguably the best power forward to ever play the game.
However, even one of their own knows what they’re up against in LaMarcus Aldridge. Tiago Splitter told ESPN, “I think LaMarcus is a younger Dirk who can shoot and drive, play in the post (and do) a lot of things, so it’s not going to be easy. We know that. I think all of the team is aware of that; everybody is going to help a little bit”.
That last line is the one you should really focus on — “everybody is going to help a little bit” — because the Blazers have been capitalizing on LMA double teams all season long and they live for it. Who are you going to help off of? You cannot leave Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum or Damian Lillard because they all knock down the 3-pointer with regularity. I don’t want to sugarcoat this and say it’s going to be easy for the Blazers because it obviously will not be, however I do believe that this is a winnable series for the upstart squad out of the Pacific Northwest.
Aldridge summed it up best, “Guys are going to be confident, but still have to think about the way that we got here, working hard and grinding it out. I think guys are definitely going to be more confident but this is new territory for most of us”. If the first round is any indication of what to expect, then we are in for a wild ride in this one as well.
During the regular season these teams split the series with each getting two wins — the point totals — Portland 423 vs. San Antonio 419. Your guess as to who wins is as good as mine — but I’m sticking with momentum and the cold-blooded Damian Lillard — Blazers in six.