Spurs (61-19) vs. Trail Blazers (40-40)
Tipoff: 9 p.m., Monday, Portland, Ore.
Season series: Spurs lead 2-1
Last meeting: Blazers 110, Spurs 106, March 15, AT&T Center
Spurs' last game: Lost to Los Angeles Clippers 98-87, Saturday, AT&T Center
Blazers' last game: Beat Utah Jazz 101-86, Saturday, Portland
Spurs' last 10 games: 7-3, lost two of last three
Blazers' last 10 games: 8-2, won last two
Notable: Rookie point guard Dejounte Murray, who has missed 15 consecutive games with a groin injury, is the only Spurs player listed as being out for Monday night's game.
SAN ANTONIO – Down to their last two games of the regular season, the Spurs have some work to do before they start the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies this weekend.
After looking lethargic and passive for most of the night in a 98-87 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, the Silver and Black suddenly find themselves with a sense of urgency to get their mojo back in road games against Portland on Monday and Utah on Wednesday.
“We need to get ourselves ready,” veteran center Pau Gasol said. “We need to find that edge to go into the playoffs.”
The Spurs (61-19) have clinched the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and open their playoff series against the No. 7 Grizzlies (43-38) on either Saturday or Sunday at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich came down on his players after the loss to the Clippers, criticizing their lack of mental and physical toughness.
“They were more aggressive than we were,” Popovich said. “They wanted the game more.”
Gasol expressed similar sentiments.
“They took the initiative and that’s just how you lose games,” he said.
Popovich singled out Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who led L.A. with 19 points and had a game-high eight assists.
“I thought Chris Paul sliced and diced us,” Popovich said. “He was great, and our execution at both ends, defensively and offensively, was really poor.”
Consequently, Popovich said every player available would play in the last two games. The only player listed as being out for Monday’s game in Portland is rookie point guard Dejounte Murray, still sidelined with a groin injury. Popovich rested six players, including four starters, in a win at Dallas on Friday night.
“I’m looking forward to the next two games,” Popovich said. “Nobody’s going to rest. We already rested everybody, and we have days in between (games) now. It’s like the playoffs kind of."
“There’s no back-to-backs. There’s no bad travel or anything like that, so it’s time for rhythm and that sort of thing. So hopefully, we’ll play better.”
The Spurs lead the season series against Portland 2-1 but the Trail Blazers won the last meeting, 110-106, on March 15 at the AT&T Center. Led by guard Damian Lillard, who scored a franchise-record 59 points, Portland clinched the No. 8 seed in the West with a 101-86 victory over Utah on Saturday night. Lillard also tied a career high with nine 3-pointers.
Lillard scored 36 points and C.J. McCollum had 26 in the Blazers’ four-point victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on March 15.
The Spurs led the Clippers 23-22 after one quarter but trailed 52-43 at halftime after getting outscored 30-20 in the second period. Kawhi Leonard scored 15 of his 28 points in the third quarter, but the Clippers ended the period on a 14-4 run after the Silver and Black had closed to 68-66 on a 3-pointer by Manu Ginobili with 4:01 left.
L.A. led 82-70 going into the fourth quarter. In the end, the Spurs simply weren’t aggressive enough or physical enough to keep up with the Clippers.
“Sometimes we come out a little too loose or too comfortable or relying on our talent, and that’s tricky,” Gasol said. “Again, if we don’t bring that edge, that ugliness, that grind on every possession, we’re going to pay for it. The margin of error is very small in the playoffs, and everyone is going to play hard."
“We’ve got to bring the initiative. We’ve got to take it to the opponent and not allow the opponent to take it to us, put us on our heels."
Ginobili and Tony Parker are the only players on the Spurs roster with more playoff experience than Gasol, who won league championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. A six-time All-Star, Gasol is in his 16th NBA season.
“Playoffs are all about intensity, about physicality, about playing through contact and fouls,” Gasol said. “There’s going to be more allowed, so you’ve just got to play through it. You’ve got to be the aggressor. You’ve got to initiate all the contact and not be on your heels."
“Talent alone is not going to win us a playoff series alone. We’re going to have to bring it. We’re going to have to be the aggressor if we want to be successful.”
Although the Spurs flopped against the Clippers have lost two or their last three games, forward LaMarcus Aldridge took an optimistic tone.
“Let’s not blow it out of proportion,” Aldridge said. “We’re not a bad team. Guys have played tough and played the right way at times. It’s just time to turn it up. I think every guy on the team understands that. I think guys will do it.”
Next up for the Spurs after Monday's game: vs. Utah Jazz, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Salt Lake City
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