Most Important Player: San Antonio
Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9): Tony Parker
Tony Parker—as always—will be responsible for running San Antonio’s outstanding offense, but this round he’ll also be responsible for dealing with Damian Lillard. In a series that will be very closely contested, Parker vs. Lillard will be a key battle.
Matthew Hochberg (@MatthewHochberg): Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard represents the youth of the Spurs. He is a capable scorer at the small forward position, a solid rebounder and a top defender. He will be relied on to help slow down the Blazers’ lethal offensive attack
Sonny Giuliano (@SonnyCG): Tony Parker
I’m intrigued by the point guard matchup in this series, and how many points combined each of the two may score if they are defended by each other for prolonged periods of play. Damian Lillard is all the rage right now, and for good reason. His dagger three against Houston is one of the all-time great playoff shots… but legends aren’t made in Round 1. He’ll need to bring the same type of game against the Spurs and former Finals MVP Tony Parker in Round 2. However, both teams might try some cross matchups defensively so each of their star point guards can be hidden.
Sam Kuperman (@samkoop): Manu Ginobili
It is no secret that when Manu Ginobili plays well, the Spurs play well. This was evident last round against Dallas when he averaged nearly 20 points in San Antonio wins but only 15 points in losses, including only 6 as he was 1-8 from the field in game 6. Ginobili has been on and off this season in terms of consistency but he seems to be in rhythm down the stretch. That will be huge for the Spurs as they look to counter a very potent Trail Blazers offensive attack.
Mike Wesson (@iamWesson): Danny Green
Danny Green gets my vote here. He was pretty much absent from the first round series against Dallas, but then again he was guarding Monta Ellis, who is a scoring machine. He will have a more favorable match-up, but he has to provide them with some scoring when Parker and Duncan happen to struggle to get going.
Most Important Player: Portland
JM: Damian Lillard
No doubt about it. LaMarcus Aldridge is awesome, and he had a fantastic year and series against the Rockets. But this is Lillard’s team. He’s going toe-to-toe against Parker this round, and that’s going to mean a lot of hard work on both ends of the floor. For a Trail Blazers win in this series, it’s imperative that Lillard plays well—and as he showed against Houston, he’s more than capable.
MH: Nicolas Batum
As former ESPN employee Chris Palmer pointed out earlier in the playoffs, every team needs a Nicolas Batum. Also at the small forward position, Batum defends and knocks down big shots. To help take some of the offensive pressure away from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the 25-year-old will need to step up.
SG: Damian Lillard
SK: Robin Lopez
Most of the talk after Portland’s first round series win over Houston has revolved around Lamarcus Aldridge’s dominance and Damien Lillard’s game winner in game 6 (and rightfully so). That being said, the other Lopez brother was one of the main reasons why the Blazers were able to advance, as he provided a tremendous inside presence.
Lopez averaged 9.7 points 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks against a Houston frontline of Omer Asik and Dwight Howard, so that is saying something. He will need to step up and play like that again against San Antonio, as Tim Duncan and company have the ability to dominate in the paint as well.
MW: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge was huge in the first two games of the series against Houston and I think he will have to do that same thing against San Antonio. He will definitely see a double team if he ever gets hot in this series, but he can take Duncan out of the game if he gets Duncan in foul trouble and makes him work on the defensive end.
Don’t Overlook _____________?
JM: Kawhi Leonard
He was amazing in last year’s finals, but I feel like many people still don’t realize how good this guy is. Whenever “15” is in the game for San Antonio, make sure you’re paying attention.
MH: Tim Duncans “struggles” against the Blazers
Tim Duncan averages 18.4 points per game against the Blazers for his career, the lowest total out of any Western Conference opponent.
SG: San Antonio’s bench advantage
The bench advantage that San Antonio has in this series over Portland is massive. In fact, during the regular season San Antonio’s bench was 1st in points per game while Portland’s ranked dead last. As the Playoffs go on, Portland is going to need some production and at the very least, some valuable minutes from the likes of Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson and… wait, who is else on their bench? Otherwise, Lillard, Aldridge and co. are going to wear down from logging big minutes.
SK: Kawhi vs. Batum
This matchup will feature two of the better defending small forwards in the NBA. Both Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs and Nicolas Batum for the Blazers have great length and are known for being able to play lockdown defense on the wing. Both players average over one steal per game and can certainly make a big impact in this series with their all-around play.
MW: Damian Lillard in the clutch
Damian Lillards’ clutch gene is the most important factor. He can will them at least two games with that alone. Tony Parker defense will be tested in this series.
JM: San Antonio in 7
MH: San Antonio in 6
SG: San Antonio in 6
SK: San Antonio in 6
MW: Portland in 7