The Trail Blazers held practice at the AT&T Center in San Antonio in preparation for Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Spurs Tuesday night (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from the first day of Portland’s second-round preparation …
· Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has never been shy about admitting his admiration for Spurs power forward and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal between Portland and San Antonio on Tuesday will be the first time the two forwards have met in the postseason, which gives the matchup a bit of a student vs. teacher feel.
“I’ve taken some of (Duncan’s) moves and modeled part of my game after him,” said Aldridge. “So whenever I’m around him I feel like I’m always learning something. It’s just a big opportunity for me.”
Aldridge has noted on many occasions that Duncan has always been his favorite player, even if he’s made life hard on Aldridge from time to time.
“(Duncan) gave it to me in the post when I first got drafted,” said Aldridge. “I had nightmares of how he scored over and over again and I couldn’t stop him.”
Of course, times have changed, as evidenced by Aldridge shooting 70 percent from the field when defended by Duncan this season. Aldridge is now unquestionably the better player, but Duncan, at age 38 and with 16 NBA seasons of experience to call on, is still remarkably effective.
“It’s a good challenge for me,” said Aldridge of going up against Duncan. “Whenever he’s on the court he’s playing at a very high level. It’s a good challenge for myself and for RoLo. I’m looking forward to it.”
· While Duncan might not be the scoring threat he once was, Tony Parker is still a terror in his 13th season, all with the Spurs. Though his scoring average dipped to 16.7 points per game this season, his lowest average in five years, he’s still shooting 50 percent from the field, a remarkable percentage for a 6-2 point guard.
“With Tony Parker you’ve got to keep him out of the middle of the floor,” said Damian Lillard, who will spend a considerable amount of time in the semifinals defending Parker. “When they run a lot of those side pick and rolls, keeping him on one side of the floor and not letting him get to the middle and explore options. I know he likes to get to the rim and I’ve got to try to do as good a job as I can limiting that.”
According to NBA.com/stats, Parker shot 40 percent from the field, well below his season average, when being guarded by Lillard this season, but the task of trying to keep Parker in check won’t fall solely to Lillard. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are sure to take turns picking up Parker. Like the old proverb says, it takes a village to defend Eva Longoria’s ex-husband.
“I’m not going to go out there and lock up Tony Parker,” said Lillard. “He’s running off screens and in transition, he’s really fast, crafty. He’s good, he’s an All-Star, a tough cover and it’s going to definitely take a team effort to slow him down.”
· Of course, one way for Lillard to slow down Parker is to make him work on the defensive end, which is something Lillard has done quite well throughout his fledgling career. Lillard is averaging 26.3 points per game in seven career games against the Spurs, his best scoring average against any team in the Western Conference, on 50 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent shooting from three.
“I think it’s just that I have a lot of space,” Lillard said of his success scoring versus San Antonio. “Usually when we play against them, I’ve got a lot of space to operate. That makes me comfortable, I guess. I get a lot of comfortable midrange shots. They don’t really have a lot of shot blockers down there, so I can get to the rim. But they’re a really consistent defensive team, so it’s not easy at all.”
Nor will it be. But Lillard can help himself by continuing to shoot a high percentage at the rim, which he did in the six games versus the Rockets, a team with arguably the best shot blocker in the league in Dwight Howard. After shooting 50 percent in the restricted area in the regular season, below the league average, Lillard has improved to 64 percent in the playoffs, a 14 percentage-point increase.
“Just picking my spots,” Lillard said of his improved finishing at the rim. “I said it all throughout the regular season that I knew my finishing would come around. Part of it was picking my spots better and another part was just me growing over the course of the season like I said I would.”