Spurs face challenge in Rip City

(SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the NBA's very best take center stage Monday night when the defending champion San Antonio Spurs head to the Moda Center to take on the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Spurs dispatched the Blazers in five games during last season's Western Conference semifinals en route to a fifth NBA championship. The two are separated by a game in the standings.

San Antonio started its quick road trip with a 99-91 victory over the Denver Nuggets Sunday night at the Pepsi Center.

Kawhi Leonard returned to lead a balanced San Antonio offense with 18 points. Leonard was back after missing two games with a bruised right hand and set career highs with six blocks and five steals to go along with four assists in a good all-around effort.

Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili each added 15 points as six Spurs scored at least 10 in the win.

"Luckily we run an offense where a lot of people can touch the ball," said Duncan. "We don't need one guy to set everything up for us."

The reigning NBA champs bounced back from Friday's overtime loss to the lowly Lakers to avoid what would have been their second 1-3 four-game stretch this season.

They played without guard Tony Parker, who sat with a hamstring strain. His availability for Monday is unknown.

The Spurs return to Alamo City Wednesday for a tough test against the Memphis Grizzlies. On Friday, the Trail Blazers visit the Spurs.

Portland stopped a two-game skid on Saturday night with a 95-85 road victory over the Indiana Pacers. The Blazers won the first two on the eastern swing, then dropped the next two on the trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls.

On Saturday, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 19 points with 14 rebounds to help the Blazers secure the victory.

Damian Lillard managed to contribute 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting, while Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews netted 14 and 12 points, respectively, in the win.

"I think our minds our on the defensive end," said Matthews. "The offense seemed to be flowing a little bit, but mainly because of what we were doing on the defensive end."

The Blazers held the Pacers to 38.6 percent shooting from the floor, and 26.7 percent from long range.

The Spurs did prevail in five games in the second round last season, but the Blazers' only victory did come in Portland in Game 4.

During the regular season, the Blazers have won four of the last six meetings with San Antonio, but the Spurs' two wins came in the last two encounters. Portland is 9-2 in its last 11 regular-season tilts versus the Spurs.