A look at what must be done if the Trail Blazers are to get the ship righted and win Saturday night's third game of their Western Conference semifinal series with San Antonio at Moda Center
LaMarcus Aldridge is shooting .375 from the field (18 for 48) in the first two games, including an unseemly 6 for 23 in Thursday's 114-97 Game-2 defeat.
Aldridge scored 32 points in the opening 116-92 loss, but it was a hollow number achieved in large part after the outcome was decided.
In three games against San Antonio during the regular season, Aldridge averaged only 21.3 points but shot .560 from the field. That's more what Portland is looking for.
In the playoffs, the Spurs have used 6-11 center Tiago Splitter to defend Aldridge. Splitter plays Aldridge straight up, but when Aldridge begins to drive right, help defense is on its way.
"They don't let me make the move," Aldridge said.
So he goes back to his patented turnaround, fadeaway jumper from the left block. He has made a few of them, but Splitter's length and defensive ability makes it difficult.
When 6-9 Boris Diaw takes the assignment, Aldridge has been more successful with the turnaround "J."
One solution: Get Splitter in foul trouble early. That could mean 7-foot Tim Duncan moving over to defend Aldridge, but that presents at least a small problem for San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who specializes in creating just that thing for opponents.
Before Game 2, Damian Lillard spoke about getting into attack mode against Tony Parker and the Spurs' aggressive defense.
"It'll be important for me to attack them early in the game, to stop that pressure," Lillard said. "Maybe if I get off to a better start, they won't be able to show L.A. as much attention. When I get going, they'll come to me and I'll be able to get guys easier shots, where they won't run guys off the 3-point line. (Teammates) will be able to get clean looks."
Didn't really happen. Lillard got off more shots (20), but made only eight and didn't create many opportunities for teammates. Lillard wasn't able to attack much because Spurs guard Tony Parker was able to slip most screens and stay with Lillard as he tried to maneuver in the paint.
One solution: Set better picks. Aldridge and Lopez are sometimes lazy with the way they screen on the pick-and-roll. Make yourself big and firm, the way Splitter and Duncan usually do.
Lillard's plan is correct. The execution at times has been sloppy. You can't afford that against an outstanding defensive club like San Antonio.
Portland must play more consistent defense, especially early in the game. The Spurs have shot .506 and .533 from the field in the two games -- .600 and .577 in the first halves. That's unbelievably accurate in the playoffs, where defense is at a premium.
The Blazers, meanwhile, are shooting .407 in the series, including only 11 for 34 (.298) from 3-point range. Portland shot .450 from the field and .372 from distance in the regular season, ranking 10th in the NBA in the latter category and fourth in average makes (9.34 per game).
"We had our best defensive game in Game 7 vs. Dallas (in the first round), and have been doing that the past couple of games, too," Parker said Thursday night. "Everybody knows you can't win a championship if you don't play defense. 'Pop' preaches that every day. But that's the hard part of the NBA. You have to do it game after game after game."
You'll rarely see as dramatic a disparity in bench play as has occurred so far in this series. San Antonio may have the deepest bench in the NBA. Portland's is probably the worst among the 16 teams that reached the postseason.
In the first two games, the Spurs reserves have outscored their Portland counterparts 100-37 -- and that's with Manu Ginobili making only 7 of 24 shots from the field. Diaw, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes have all made major contributions.
"When the bench plays well," Parker said, "usually we do well."
The Blazers have gotten terrific play from Will Barton, who has earned a spot in the regular rotation by scoring 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range.
"I was just looking for a spark," Portland coach Terry Stotts said of Barton's insertion. "I liked his activity."
Beyond that, there has been little production off the Portland bench. With Mo Williams evidently limited by a groin strain, Stotts has few bodies to turn to.
Dorell Wright was the only Blazer to not see action Thursday. Stotts should give him a shot in Game 3. Maybe Wright, who made 69 3-pointers during the regular season, can provide some marksmanship from beyond the arc. The 3 has been a major weapon for the Blazers all season. No need to stop now.
San Antonio has won the battle in both second-chance points (46-29) and fast-break points (33-17) in the series. The Spurs led 17-2 in fast-breaks points in the first half Thursday before the Blazers turned it around, winning 8-0 over the final 24 minutes.
During the regular season, Portland was third in the league in offensive rebounds per game (12.46), San Antonio 26th (9.29). The Blazers have 28 -- 11 by Robin Lopez -- while the Spurs have picked 24 off the offensive glass in the series so far.
"We just need to stay focused there," Stotts said. "They're one of the best (teams) in the league in that they keep coming after you. We have to maintain our alertness, our intensity in those areas."
In each of the first two games, Portland opened shooting 2 for 13 from the field. That's not going to get it done.
"We have to do a better job (Saturday), show (the Spurs) who we are from the start," said Nicolas Batum, the Blazers' best player in Game 2 with 21 points and nine rebounds. "We did that against Houston. I didn't see that from us in the first two games.
"We know we've done bad the last two games. We have to get back to where we were the first series. We know we can do it. We're younger than (the Spurs). We should outwork them."