Champs Back to Work

The San Antonio Spurs have done many things to warrant being called the team of the decade thus far. Winning consecutive NBA championships for the first time in franchise history would cement that status.

Tim Duncan and the Spurs begin their bid for a fourth title in six years and fifth in 10 on Tuesday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers, who begin their rebuilding process without its most important part - top overall draft pick Greg Oden.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made San Antonio -13.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 194 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 75% of bets for this game have been placed on San Antonio -13.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

The Spurs finished second to the Dallas Mavericks in the Midwest Division last season, but San Antonio went on an impressive run to the NBA Finals, where it swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games to cap a 16-4 postseason.

This season, the Spurs return essentially the same team as Duncan and Finals MVP Tony Parker will lead the effort to win back-to-back titles. San Antonio failed to repeat in both 2004 and 2006, losing in the conference semifinals both times.

"It helps having the same guys coming back this year,'' said Duncan, who averaged 20.0 points and 10.6 rebounds last season. "All in all, what it comes down to is we've got the guys that have been through it, that have been through the wars and know what it takes and what it's about. So that gives us an advantage.''

Parker, who averaged 24.5 points while shooting 56.8 percent in the Finals, claims he is in better shape after an offseason of weight training following his highly publicized marriage to actress Eva Longoria in his native France over the summer.

"I think as a team we understand what it means to defend a championship. So I think as long as everybody's motivated and we stay healthy, we'll have a good chance,'' said Parker, sporting a tattooed wedding band on his left ring finger. "I don't care about what people say. It's just for us. We have to do it for us.''

Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Michael Finley and Jacque Vaughn - sporting a combined 65 years of experience - highlight the veteran presence returning for the Spurs, who fully understand the rigors of playing as the favorite.

"If you thought you were a marked team then, you're definitely a marked team now,'' said Finley, a 12-year veteran who finally won his first NBA title last season. "These teams are going to come out and bring out their best game and you have to be prepared both mentally and physically to have that type of 'X' on your back every night.''

While the Spurs have set the league standard, the Trail Blazers appeared ready for a resurgence after a fortuitous offseason. After failing to make the playoffs, Portland won the NBA Draft lottery and selected Oden - the highly regarded 7-foot center who helped Ohio State reach the NCAA tournament championship game in his only season after averaging 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks as a freshman - with the first overall pick.

The Blazers then engineered a draft-day trade, sending power forward Zach Randolph to the New York Knicks as part of a six-player deal that brought 24-year-old forward Channing Frye and veteran guard Steve Francis to Portland. They waived Francis in a commitment to youth, and with 2007 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy expected to form a potent tandem with Oden, optimism was high in the Pacific Northwest.

But in September, Oden underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee after an exploratory procedure revealed damage. Already the face of the franchise, the 19-year-old center was crestfallen when he learned he would likely miss the entire season.

"Greg looked at me as he was coming out of his surgery, and he and his mom, Zoe, probably said 'sorry' 20 times,'' Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said in September.

"I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. And as a leader and as leaders of this organization, my first thought was how lucky we were to have a guy that cares about the organization that much.''

Even without Oden, the Blazers have a strong nucleus. Roy averaged 16.8 points in 57 games after overcoming early heel injuries, and second-year point guard Jarrett Jack added 12.0 points and a team-high 5.3 assists in his first season as a starter.

Oden's absence will put more pressure on a young trio of frontcourt players - Frye, LaMarcus Aldridge and Martell Webster. Frye averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, while Aldridge - the No. 2 pick in 2006 - contributed 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

The 20-year-old Webster, who averaged 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds, may be the player coach Nate McMillan is counting on to make the biggest strides.

"He must show the coaching staff that his help to this team is just not the nights he shoots 50 percent," McMillan told the Blazers' official Web site.

San Antonio has won 10 straight games between the teams since a 107-99 loss Jan. 24, 2005. The Spurs also have reeled off eight straight home victories over the Blazers since a 95-76 loss on Nov. 9, 2002.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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