The Spurs could just as feasibly finish fourth as they could miss the playoffs. Their 45-34 record has them in sixth place in the west, but they are just one game behind fourth and one game ahead of ninth.
Every game is important and losing their past two games has put them in a perilous position. They will probably need to win at least one out of their last three games to secure their playoff spot, and it starts with a difficult assignment against Portland.
The Blazers (48-31) have also lost two games in a row but still, sit in third place with a two-game buffer over Utah. The latest of these losses was a gallant 94-96 effort against Houston, in which they kept the Rockets to just ten points for the final quarter before a Chris Paul basket ended the game.
Three keys to the game
The home court Spurs - These Spurs are much better than the road Spurs. San Antonio have one of the most lopsided home and away record in the NBA. On the road, they are a woeful 14-26, but at home they are 31-8.
Lillard’s fitness - Lillard is the Blazers’ most important players, and he was sorely missed against Houston. He sat out the game with a sprained ankle, and Shabazz Napier took his spot. Part of one of the best backcourt combinations in the game, Lillard is a key reason for Portland’s late-season run, and they will need him back and healthy in this game.
The battle of the boards - Both sides pride themselves on being good on the glass. Portland grabs 51.5% of available rebounds while the Spurs grab 51.1%, placing them fourth and fifth in the league, respectively. There are only a finite number of rebounds to go around in this game, though, and if either team can continue their dominance on the glass, they will have a major advantage.
Matchup to watch
Dejounte Murray vs Damian Lillard - Lillard is the better player here, but the Spurs guard is coming off one of the best games of his young career. Against the Lakers on Wednesday, Murray stuffed the stats sheet with 23 points, ten rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. These numbers stand out in a season in which he averages 8.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
He will have his hands full on Saturday though when he comes up against one of the best point guards in the league. Lillard is averaging 26.7 points and 6.6 assists per game this season, but his late-season form has been even better.
His scoring has been a major reason for the Blazers run to the third seed, and in recent games he has shown off his facilitatory game. Lillard is averaging 9.3 assists in his past three games, and his ability to both score and assist at a high level makes him a difficult matchup.
San Antonio Spurs predicted starting lineup
PG - Dejounte Murray | SG - Patty Mills | SF - Kyle Anderson | PF - LaMarcus Aldridge | C - Pau Gasol
Portland Trail Blazers predicted starting lineup
PG - Damian Lillard | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Evan Turner | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu | C - Jusuf Nurkic
LaMarcus Aldridge has been problematic for the Blazers in both their games against the Spurs this season. In the first, he went 12-for-21 from the floor for 30 points and grabbed seven offensive rebounds amongst his 14 total boards. In the second, he shot 10-for-17, grabbed eight boards, and contributed three blocks. He is in great form of late, averaging 30.2 points in his last ten games.
Portland have been given a three-point handicap, and back them to cover this, though only just. The two games between these sides this season have been decided by three points and expect this one to be equally close, with the Blazers just covering this line.
This one will go down to the wire. Both sides need to win, particularly the Spurs, and the game will be played at a playoff-level intensity. Aldridge is in fantastic form and has been too good for the Blazers to stop this season, and he will put up 30 points for San Antonio.
For the Blazers, it will be the backcourt doing the damage. Lillard will return to score 25+ points and dish out close to ten assists, but it won’t be enough to overcome a San Antonio side which revels on its home floor. The game will be decided in the final minute, and it will be the Spurs who leave with a 101-99 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSSW and NBCNSW. Tip-off is at 9pm ET.