NBA Playoffs Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs

06
May

I mean, I have to put it in the post…it was awesome. So here is the Lillard shot that sent the Portland Trail Blazers into this second round NBA Playoffs matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.

lillard

Oh the pain, the mid-range shot pain. Coming from a strong believer in shot efficiency and getting the best shots possible at all times, this series is going to be ripe with shots I hate. Having said that, I’m not saying all mid-range shots are bad. They can be a fantastic because teams often will be lax and let you take them, and when you have a mid-range specialist like LaMarcus Aldridge1 or Tony Parker,2 those shots are uncontested and easy to knock down.

A sense of a reliance on mid-range shooting may be where these two teams end their similarities. After all, the Spurs have no player averaging more than 35 minutes per game in the playoffs. The Trail Blazers on the other hand, have essentially four players averaging over 40 minutes per game, with their Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez lineup averaging 21.6 mins per game.3 The Spurs most common lineup is only playing 10.2 mins per game.4 Which team is going to win? An old, but “rested” team or a young, short rotation team?

Keys to the Series

Spurs

  • Stay fresh. As noted above, the Spurs don’t have a single players averaging more than 35 minutes per game, despite playoff rotations being cut down to about seven player usually.  Gregg Popovich’s squad has nine players that play a major factor in their normal playoff rotation.5 Pop needs to keep the old legs fresh and pick great moments, near the end of quarters, to rest his veterans throughout each game.
  • Blanket Mo Williams. Williams plays 25 mins per game for the Blazers and averages 1.7 turnovers as the second unit ball handler. Based on number of possessions, this comes out to 14.1 turnovers per 100 possessions for Williams. On the other hand, Manu Ginobili is averaging 2.3 steals per game, more than double any of his teammates. If Williams comes to the table, especially to relieve Lillard, I expect to see Ginobili getting off the bench to take advantage of the situation.

Trail Blazers

  • Get out and run. Though it has only been for 20 minutes over the six games, when the Blazers went small, replacing Lopez with Williams and sliding everyone down the defensive spectrum, their pace jumped from 91.79 possessions per 48 minutes (a Spurs speed pace) to an amazing 109.38 possessions per 48 minutes. Force Pop to go to his bench by getting the younger legs moving and getting out in transition.
  • Attack the paint. Get Splitter to the bench, forcing Tim Duncan to move to center. Damian Lillard is averaging eight free throw attempts per game in the playoffs and Splitter is averaging 3.3 personal fouls per game. He fouled out in game four and was close (five fouls) in game three.

X-Factor

Boris Diaw ((Proverbial Shot Chart – here)) – Diaw is a player that entered the league as a guard and is now a forward, often playing center. He isn’t great defensively, but putting him on Robin Lopez can mitigate that problem. The interesting part is that whether the Blazers put Lopez or Aldridge on Diaw, he can pull that player away from the basket since he knocked down threes at a 41.7% clip this post-season. That means he’s taking out a strong rebounding player in the process. Also, as are all playoff stats, it may be a small sample size, but in bursts, surrounding Duncan with Diaw, Green, Mills and Ginobili (all capable shooters) has led to an amazing offensive rating of 150.4 points per 100 possessions so far.6

Prediction

Spurs in 6

They’re rotations will be crisper, their close outs will be faster and their screens will be harder. I’ll fully admit that I’ll probably find myself rooting for this Rip City team, but taking on the proto-shooting power forward in round one, Dirk Nowitzki, gave Pop a preview of what this Portland team can do.


  1. LaMarcus Aldridge Shot Chart – here 

  2. Tony Parker’s Shot Chart – here — Also, you can find Tim Duncan’s Shot Chart here, he has not been a mid-range shooter these playoffs, contrary to what many people think 

  3. Wesley Matthews is averaging 39.9 

  4. Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter 

  5. A Bulls fan would be jealous of a six player playoff rotation 

  6. This lineup had a net rating of 12.2 during the regular season as well – here 

About the author: Colby Rogers

Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.