Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan

NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio Spurs: 62-20

Portland Trail Blazers: 54-28

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio Spurs: none

Portland Trail Blazers: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

San Antonio Spurs: Offense 108.1 (7th in NBA), Defense 100.1 (4th in NBA)

Portland Trail Blazers: Offense 108.3 (5th in NBA), Defense 104.7 (16th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) How much does experience matter?

The attention increases, the lights brighten and the pressure mounts. Relative to the second round of the NBA playoffs, the first round is practically an extension of the regular season. The difference between the first two rounds, especially if you haven’t experienced it before is, stark.

From a purely mathematical standpoint, this makes sense. Going from 16 to 8 teams is a greater drop by magnitude than going from 30 to 16 teams.

If experiencing this level of the playoffs matters, San Antonio has a huge advantage.

Five Spurs – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner – have each played more games beyond the first round than all the Trail Blazers combined.

Just three Trail Blazers have played in the second round to 13 Spurs.

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2) How much do benches matter?

The Spurs’ reserves combined for 30.5 win shares this season. Give them a little more playing time, and maybe they could have competed for a playoff spot in the East.

The Trail Blazers’ reserves… well, they’re no longer historically bad, like they were last season. Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas have helped, but Portland still ranked last in bench scoring.

In the playoffs, benches matter less. There are no back-to-backs, so teams can more easily depend on their top players rather than their depth.

However, that’s less true in this series than most. Games 1 to 6 feature only one day off between each, and Game 7 would follow just a two-day break.

Still, that sure beats the regular-season pace of games.

If the teams’ benches will matter, it’s based mostly on what’s already happened.

Throughout the season, the Trail Blazers’ starters have carried a much bigger load than the Spurs’. Here are the 120 leaders in total minutes this season, including the playoffs:

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Portland is the only team with two players in the top nine, three in the top 23, four in the top 31 and five in the top 56. No Spur ranks higher than No. 78.

San Antonio, despite needing a game longer to win its first-round series, should be better-rested than the Trail Blazers. Considering the age gap, the Spurs might need to be.

3) How much can LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard do?

As noted in the previous two keys, the Spurs have some decided advantages. The main question is how much they matter.

But the Trail Blazers might have the series’ two best players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, and that definitely matters.

Aldridge and Lillard were both All-Stars, and Aldridge finished 10th in MVP voting. Although Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both received MVP votes – Lillard didn’t – Lillard is just 23. He’s better today than he was in October, and an award that considers an entire season’s body of work doesn’t necessarily reflect Lillard’s current ability.

Lillard (25.5 points on 47 percent shooting and 49 percent 3-point shooting, 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game) excelled against the Rockets, and so did Aldridge (29.8 points on 48 percent shooting, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game). These are stars playing their best at the exact right moment.

It won’t get any easier against the Spurs, though.

Lillard didn’t have to extend much energy defending Patrick Beverley, and Jeremy Lin gave him issues at times. The margin for error is greatly reduced against Parker. Can Lillard provide at least tolerable defense and still bring it offensively?

Aldridge has generally fared well against Tim Duncan, but Houston provided a model for slowing him. Aldridge didn’t fare as well against the Rockets’ jumbo power-forward-center combo, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, and San Antonio the size to at least try replicating that strategy.

Plus, the Spurs are one of the NBA’s top defensive-rebounding teams, which could neutralize Portland’s excellent offensive rebounding. If Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson need help creating second-chance opportunities, something the Trail Blazers depend on, Aldridge might have to move out of his preferred mid-range spots and work closer to the rim.

Lillard and Aldridge are true stars. San Antonio might prevent them from looking like it, though.

PREDICTION

While debating the importance of experience and benches in the playoffs, I’ve ignored one key factor that definitely impacts postseason series: coaching. Terry Stotts has improved a great deal since coaching the Hawks and Bucks, and he has Rick Carlisle’s indirect help. With Nicolas Batum in the Shawn Marion role, the Trail Blazers’ can replicate the switching, mismatching defensive strategy that gummed up San Antonio’s offense in the last round. However, the Spurs adjusted then, and two good coaches might still not equal Gregg Popovich.

Spurs in 7

All-Star game television ratings are best since 2013

Western Conference forward Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (23 ) slam dunks during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, Pool)
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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA All-Star game drew an average audience of 7.8 million viewers, making it the most-viewed All-Star broadcast since 2013.

Turner Sports announced the numbers on Monday. The number of viewers peaked at 8.5 million and the total audience was up 3 percent from last year’s game.

The hype surrounding the game centered on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing on the Western Conference team together. Durant left Oklahoma City last summer to join Golden State, leaving his longtime teammate Westbrook behind with the Thunder. Westbrook did not hide his dissatisfaction with Durant, which ratcheted up the intrigue heading into the game on Sunday.

The two shared the court for just 81 seconds and Oklahoma City posted the highest local market rating with a 10.9.

Report: Timberwolves, Knicks discuss Derrick Rose trade

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks takes a shot as Kris Dunn #3 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends at Madison Square Garden on December 2, 2016 in New York City.The New York Knicks defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 118-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves — 3.5 games and five teams out of playoff position — have made reaching the postseason this year a priority.

So, within that nonsensical goal apparently comes a nonsensical idea: Trading for Derrick Rose.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The Minnesota Timberwolves have reached out to the Knicks recently to discuss potential trades for New York point guard Derrick Rose, sources told ESPN.

The Timberwolves, sources say, are among several teams to reach out to the Knicks asking about potential trades for Rose.

Rose, of course, played for Timberwolves president/coach Tom Thibodeau with the Bulls. That makes this report both plausible and something the Knicks would leak to drum up interest.

I can’t imagine a market especially eager to acquire Rose, who will become a free agent next summer. His $21,323,252 salary is difficult to match in trades without sending out too valuable of players. Rose has become a good downhill driver, but the rest of his game is lacking after years of injuries.

The Timberwolves have nearly $13 million of cap space, which could be useful in facilitating a deal. But they also have three intriguing point guards: Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones.

If Minnesota really wants Rose, it could just sign him this summer. His Bird Rights shouldn’t matter much. Who would give the 28-year-old a five-year contract?

Rubio for Rose straight up works financially, for what it’s worth. The Timberwolves shouldn’t do that, but we don’t know enough about Tom Thibodeau running a front office to assume they won’t.

Report: Pelicans trying to trade Terrence Jones

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After their trade today, the Pelicans have the NBA’s most dynamic big-man tandem: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Davis and Cousins are tall, athletic and skilled in a combination we might have never seen from any power forward-center duo since Charles Barkley-Hakeem Olajuwon. New Orleans’ two could thrive together, and while they develop chemistry, they’ll each likely get minutes without the other.

That doesn’t leave much playing time for someone like Terrence Jones.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Jones settled for a one-year minimum contract after an injury-plagued and inconsistent tenure with the Rockets. His inconsistency remains, but considering his salary, his highs more than justify dealing with the lows. At just 25, Jones could still figure out how to reliably contribute.

Jones’ contract dictates he be rental, which will lower his trade value. But he could help teams trying to win down the stretch — including New Orleans.

Dante Cunningham seems more favored at power forward, and Donatas Motiejunas can fill in. But the Pelicans could still use Jones.

Shopping him might be a favor to the player, but we’ll see whether an actual trade is part of the gesture.

Source: Other team pulled ‘better’ trade offer for DeMarcus Cousins due to agent’s threat

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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Gallowayshockingly little return for Sacramento’s franchise player.

“I had a better deal two days ago,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said.

Um, what?

Divac made Sacramento look foolish with that quote, but according to a league source, the problem was more poor communication with the media — something Divac is no stranger to — than terrible trading.

According to the source, the potential trade partner made an offer only to pull it once Cousins’ camp threatened the star center wouldn’t re-sign in 2018. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, publicly said before the New Orleans deal was consummated that it was “highly unlikely” Cousins would re-sign with any team that trades for him.

The trade made Cousins ineligible to become a designated veteran player, costing him at least a projected $29.87 million on his next deal. So, Cousins had clear incentive to stay in Sacramento.

Another source involved in Cousins trade discussions confirmed Cousins’ camp attempted to dissuade teams from trading for him, though that source did not confirm a pulled offer.

It’s unclear whether the Kings could have completed the “better” offer before the other team pulled out. The offer was presented as available to Sacramento for a day or two, according to the first source, though the other team could have always backed away at any point as it received more information.

This situation isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who follows college recruiting, where there are differences between offers, Offers and committable offers and everyone has their own definitions of each term.

Divac has struggled as Sacramento’s general manager, and his track record opens him to the type of mocking he received in the wake of his “better offer” remarks. But, though there’s still some mystery in the Kings’ trade process, attacking Divac based solely on this comment is probably piling on too far.

There are already enough reason to believe Sacramento erred on this deal.