Trail Blazers Vs. Spurs Preview

February 19th, 2014

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By NICOLINO DEBENEDETTO

The Portland Trail Blazers are returning from the All-Star break without their top scorer and need to change their starting lineup for the first time this season.

The San Antonio Spurs are all too familiar with tinkering with their first five to adjust without key personnel.

With LaMarcus Aldridge out at least a week, the Trail Blazers attempt to begin turning around a rough stretch Wednesday night by beating the San Antonio Spurs, who are expected to be missing Tony Parker again.

Portland (36-17) entered the break losing six of nine following a 122-117 road defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers last Wednesday. They've suffered an even greater blow since, as Aldridge - the team leader with 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game - is sidelined with a left groin strain and will be re-evaluated at the end of the week.

Aldridge - along with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez - started the team's previous 53 games.

The forward was hurt during a 117-110 win at Minnesota on Feb. 8, sitting out the fourth quarter. However, he played through the injury over the next two games - both losses - and scored 25 points in 36 minutes against the Clippers.

Aldridge also appeared in Sunday's All-Star game, totaling four points and five boards in 13 minutes in the West's 163-155 loss.

His absence further thins a front line already missing reserve centers Meyers Leonard (ankle) and Joel Freeland (knee), potentially increasing the work load on Lopez. The 7-footer is averaging 10.7 points and 8.4 boards, but he's managed 7.5 and 4.9 per game over his last 10 meetings with the Spurs (39-15).

Aldridge, meanwhile, averaged 25.4 points over the last five meetings, and the Blazers have won four straight while averaging 114.5 points. They took the most recent home matchup 115-105 on Nov. 2, their ninth win in 10 home games versus San Antonio.

The Spurs could surely empathize with the Blazers, as they also returned from the break with Parker - who also played in the All-Star game - out indefinitely due to a bruised shin, a groin strain and lower back spasms. Coach Gregg Popovich, who has used 15 different starters this season, said the 13-year veteran is sidelined "for the foreseeable future."

"We're just trying to get him healthy," forward Tim Duncan said about Parker after San Antonio's 113-103 road win over the Clippers on Tuesday. "I mean, players being healthy is so underrated. When people play through things and they aren't 100 percent, the season becomes a grind. So we want to be 100 percent so that down the stretch and in the playoffs, when we ask him to do all that we need him to do, he's ready to go and carry that load on his shoulders."

Marco Belinelli is helping to pick up the slack, averaging 18.7 points while hitting 9 of 18 3-pointers over the last three games. The guard scored 20 points Tuesday after becoming the first Spur to win the Three-Point Shootout on Saturday.

Belinelli went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc and 8 of 12 overall while scoring 19 points in the November loss at Portland.

Patrick Mills - the only Spur to play in all 54 games - is giving San Antonio some scoring punch off the bench of late, averaging 19.7 points while connecting on 55.4 percent from the floor - 15 of 33 from 3-point range. The reserve guard scored 16 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday.

Duncan, who has 29 career double-doubles versus Portland, had 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists against the Clippers.