SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs barely had time to exhale Sunday after a grueling seven-game series with the Dallas Mavericks before an even more demanding test was presented.
How do the veteran Spurs expect to keep up with the young and energetic Portland Trail Blazers, who upset the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets in a six-game series? "Can I get a couple of hours," San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said. "We haven't watched them at all; we played them a few times. What we know is that they are packed with shooters. They can really shoot the ball. The fact that you've got to contest them and not let them take easy 3s creates a lot of room for them to attack the rim. It's going to be very important to have a very good one-on-one defense because when they start hitting 3s and getting to the rim, it gets really hard."
The series opens Tuesday in San Antonio. The teams split four regular-season games, with the Trail Blazers winning the first two meetings and the Spurs capturing the last two. San Antonio's victories were part of a 24-5 record after the All-Star break while earning the league's best record.
But the Mavericks proved that what happens in the regular season doesn't always matter in the playoffs. After being swept in four regular-season games and losing Game 1 to extend its skid against San Antonio to 10 games, Dallas rallied to push its intrastate rival to the brink of an unexpected early elimination. The Spurs responded with their best performance of the series Sunday, rolling to a 119-96 victory in Game 7.
"That was a great warm-up, if I can call it a warm-up," said Tony Parker, who had 32 points in Game 7. "It was tough to play them because Dirk is one of best ever and Monta Ellis played great in the series. It's going to be pretty much more of the same."
Another sharp-shooting big man and energetic guard playing off pick-and-rolls, except playing the part of Nowitzki and Ellis for the Blazers are the younger LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Aldridge averaged 29.8 points against Houston, including a pair of 40-plus point games to open the first-round series. Lillard averaged 25.5 points and hit a series-clinching 3-pointer in Game 6.
"It is obviously one heck of a team," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "We had trouble with them all year long. They have guys on the team that we haven't guarded yet. They are young, energetic. Terry (Stotts, Portland's coach) does a great job. They know what they want to do and they are playing great basketball. It will be a big challenge, obviously."
Guarding Lillard was a tough assignment for Parker and the Spurs, averaging 25 points and 5.5 assists while playing in all four regular-season games. "(Lillard) does a lot of great stuff for that team, and so he is going to be one of the guys that we're going to have to contain," Parker said. "But it's not just him. They have a great team. Aldridge is a great player (and so is) Wes Matthews. They create a lot of matchup problems, (Nicholas) Batum in pick and rolls. It's not just going to be just (Lillard). We have to focus on everybody."
Aldridge averaged 21.3 points and 8.0 rebounds against San Antonio. Parker averaged 12.7 points and 6.0 assists against the Trail Blazers during the regular season and Tim Duncan averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Parker, Aldridge and Duncan all missed the team's third meeting, a 111-109 San Antonio victory in Portland on Feb. 19. Patty Mills had 29 points in place of Parker, helping the Spurs end their skid against the Trail Blazers.
San Antonio will need that type of production from its bench, which was a nonfactor against Dallas with the exception of Ginobili. "Our ball movement is coming back and we're going to need it against Portland because they are another great defensive team," Parker said.