"I want to be the best Blazer — ever. If I stay the rest of my career, I should be able to catch Clyde by then. I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay."
Remember these famous last words Portland fans? This quote comes directly from ex-franchise cornerstone LaMarcus Aldridge in an interview with the Oregonian two offseasons ago. Now he returns to Rip City in a San Antonio Spurs uniform, ready to face 4-4 Portland at 7:30 p.m ET.
Of the four starters to leave this past summer, Aldridge is the first to come back, and the headlines will undoubtedly focus on the fans’ decision to boo or cheer. Portland fans know how to handle comebacks. They greeted Raymond Felton with game-long boos coinciding every touch of the ball, but gave a standing ovation to Brandon Roy and loud cheers for long time Blazer Joel Pryzbilla.
Aside from the fans, Damian Lillard shared his preparation for the game, showing his competitive side by saying, “With me, it’s no hard feelings. He’ll come back and he’s the competition now. So I hope he doesn’t make a shot.”
Very few Portland players played alongside Aldridge after their major roster flip before the season. For them and the rest of San Antonio’s roster, it’s simply a game between the Spurs and the Blazers, a quiet rivalry that may no longer play as competitively. San Antonio is 5-2 on the season, and can expand their streak to three in a row with a victory over a fledgling Blazer defense.
After a surprising 4-2 start for Portland, they managed to lose two winnable games versus the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets. They possessed a double digit lead going into the final 12 minutes, but behind Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, the Pistons outscored the Blazers 41-11 in the fourth to win in blowout fashion, 120-103. Portland kept close for nearly 48 minutes the following game against the Nuggets, but couldn’t step up defensively once again and allowed rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and rising star Kenneth Faried to win Denver the game, 108-104.
To stay from dropping under .500, Portland must defeat a heavily armed San Antonio team. They retained their core lineup: the Big Three along with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. In addition, they signed Aldridge and veteran David West, both in the search of an NBA title. Neither new signing fits into Gregg Popovich’s fluent offense quite yet, but the day they do means bad things for the rest of the Western Conference.
Tonight will test Portland’s defense. They prided its capabilities leading up to the first game, but haven’t proved it to be reliable. San Antonio’s offense ranks only at 11th in the league with 102.3 points scored per game. Their defense, on the other hand, ranks third in the league, allowing just 91.7 points per game. Tonight two defenses will battle, but Portland’s poor D will be under serious pressure throughout all four quarters. The Blazer offense may need to bail them out, increasing the probability of a Rip City loss due to over reliance on outside shots.