After a first round full of surprises and unsought extra effort, the San Antonio Spurs have secured their rightful place in the Western Conference Semifinals. Dallas gave San Antonio just about all they could handle, but ultimately lacked the poise and defensive intensity necessary to take down the rival Spurs.
With a first round full of game 7 matchups, only one team out west got to take the weekend off, sit back and watch their eventual opponents fight for their playoff lives. After San Antonio’s definitive victory over Dallas Sunday afternoon, that team, the Portland Trail Blazers, packed up and were in San Antonio by nightfall, prepared to continue their impressive run.
Each team won two of the four regular season games played against one another this year, setting up what should be another long, barn-burning series out west. Portland has proven all season that they belong in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, and with an impressive 6-game series win over a potent Houston team, the Trail Blazers are arguably the best offensive team in the playoffs.
Portland’s All-Star tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have set the playoffs on fire with their offensive performances and late-game heroics. Aldridge started off the Houston series with one of the most impressive postseason performance in NBA history, let alone the 2014 playoffs, scoring over 40 points in both of the first two games on the road. Lillard took over as the hero once the series progressed, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot, ultimately sending Portland into the next round on a buzzer-beating three in game 6.
Though San Antonio struggled early in the series against Dallas, the coaching staff and veteran leadership from Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker proved to be too much for the mismatched Mavericks. In round 2, however, no early struggles can exist. Portland proved that they can go on the road and steal both games with their potent offensive onslaught of outside and midrange shots.
Duncan and Tiago Splitter should have quite the advantage on the offensive end going against Portland’s big-men Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland, both below average defenders. Dwight Howard put up monstrous numbers night in and night out against the Blazer bigs, so don’t expect anything different from the motion-based attack of San Antonio.
On paper and through utter speculation, this is a matchup nightmare for the aging Spurs. Portland has the youth, speed, and outside precision to run away with a victory on any given night. In reality, however, the Spurs have the advantage of experience and depth. Gregg Popovich is hands-down the best coach in the NBA, and after out-coaching a fellow ring-bearing adversary in Rick Carlisle, it’s obvious that the Spurs can overcome offensive adversity.
Portland’s perimeter defense looked to be their key weakness in the the regular season, but after limiting James Harden to less than ideal numbers, they seem to be able to hold their own. Wesley Matthews, who is usually a huge threat on the offensive end, took a backseat in offensive production in order to lock down Harden. Luckily for San Antonio, their best shooting guard, Manu Ginobili, comes off the bench. This will force discrepancies in rest to play a critical role within the shooting guard matchup. While Matthews is tiring, Ginobili should be able to come in fresh and attack off the dribble right away.
This series will be littered with incredible player matchups. If Duncan continues to play his true power forward role like he did in the first round, he should be matched up on Aldridge. Both players have very similar offensive games, full of shake-and-bake iso moves and fadeaway midrange shots. Aldridge definitely holds the edge due to his youth, but Duncan can still put a hurt on any defender in the game.
The best matchup of all should come at the point guard position. With both starting guards riding high off of monstrous games to end their first round series, Parker and Lillard should both be looking to attack right out of the gate. Both guards aren’t the best defenders, so expect impressive scoring nights from each of them on any given night.
This is yet another mouth-watering matchup within the 2014 playoffs for any basketball fan. In the four games that were played in the regular season, both teams averaged right around 105 points, guaranteeing an offensive duel. This will be another coaching battle between two Coach of the Year candidates, but the edge obviously lies with the victor of the reward.
Expect another long series, at least 6 games, and most likely a couple of overtime outcomes. I’m going with the Spurs in 7. Their veteran leadership and experience should prove enough to stagnate the offensive pressure of the Trail Blazers enough to come away with four victories.
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