Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers – Pounding The Rock

The San Antonio Spurs kick off the second night of a back-to-back with a chip on their shoulders after the Golden State Warriors handed them their second-worst loss of the season on Monday night. They must now look to leave that humiliating outing behind them as they visit another formidable Western Conference opponent in the first-place Portland Trail Blazers.

The shortstaffed Silver and Black have lost six of their last seven contests since stunning the league and getting out to a 5-2 start this season, and it seems like their unforgiving schedule is catching up to them. Head Coach Gregg Popovich has game-planned around his team’s shortcomings, but will that be enough to bounce back on the second stop of their road trip?

San Antonio Spurs (6-8) at Portland Trail Blazers (9-4)

November 15, 2022 | 9:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs: Zach Collins (Out — Leg), Blake Wesley (Out — Knee), Malaki Branham (Out — Ankle), Romeo Langford (Out — Health and Safety Protocols), Dominick Barlow (Out — Two-Way), Tre Jones (Out — Illness)

Blazers: Olivier Sarr (Out — Wrist), Gary Payton II (Out — Competition Reconditioning), Keon Johnson (Questionable — Hip), Jusuf Nurkic (Questionable — Adductor), Justise Winslow (Questionable — Illness)

What To Watch For

  • Tre Jones might not be the flashiest point guard, but he is crucial to the success of San Antonio’s motion offense. He leads the team in touches, passes made, pick-and-roll possessions, and assists per game. Perhaps more important than any of those numbers, the diminutive floor general helps the Spurs slide seamlessly into their actions with speedy decision-making and just enough dribble penetration to force opposing defenses to collapse. The Spurs recorded a season-low 18 assists on Monday night as they struggled to move the ball with any fluidity, which isn’t a coincidence since Jones was out with a stomach bug. A loss to the white-hot Warriors was probably inescapable regardless of whether or not Tre suited up. But his absence reinforced the idea that everyone else performs better when he sets the table. Jeremy Sochan earned a chance to run the show as his replacement in the starting lineup but failed to notch a single assist in 24 minutes as head coach Gregg Popovich quickly shifted to an initiator-by-committee approach. If Jones doesn’t return against the Blazers, expect to see more on-ball reps redirected to Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell.
  • Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons are probably the second-best three-point shooting duo in the NBA. Both guards are a threat to fire away from the moment they pass the timeline, their range off the dribble extends to the logo, and they are the closest thing to the Splash Brothers the Spurs will see until they face the Warriors again in January. While Dame and Ant bend defenses with their on and off-ball marksmanship, they are adept at getting to almost any spot on the court using their shifty handles and elite understanding of angles. Their unique interchangeability as lead initiators makes them an incredibly challenging defensive assignment. And it is one of the reasons they have combined for 50.9 points per game this season. San Antonio will have their hands full trying to contain this high-scoring tandem, an endeavor made more complicated by their lack of backcourt depth. Even if the Silver and Black somehow corral Lillard and Simons, the Blazers can turn to Jerami Grant. Their prized offseason addition is also averaging more than 20 points per game, and he is more than capable of an offensive outburst as the primary beneficiary of the immense gravity of his star teammates.
  • Devin Vassell (6) and Keldon Johnson (15) were each held to season-low point totals on Monday night as the Warriors refused to give either player much breathing room on the perimeter. Golden State worked diligently to deny them the ball off handoffs and stayed home when others drove into the paint. The Spurs faltered as their leading scorers never quite got into a smooth rhythm. Fantastic communication on rotations and switches was the formula for bothering Vassell and Johnson, but putting the ball in their hands after made baskets and defensive rebounds might be the solution to getting them going. Neither youngster is the ideal facilitator, but this is the perfect time to test the extent of their playmaking talents while letting them learn from their mistakes. Though most of their field goals come via assists from teammates, fans have gradually watched head coach Gregg Popovich present them with more self-creation opportunities. The results don’t have to be squeaky clean as long as their process is repeatable and conducive to long-term development. After all, the goal of every rebuild is to take small steps that eventually accumulate into a colossal leap.

For the Trail Blazers fans’ perspective, please visit Blazer’s Edge.

The Game Thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.

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