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The San Antonio Spurs have done many things to arguably be called the team of the decade thus far. Coach Greg Popovich and his team begin their bid for a fourth title in six years and fifth in 10 seasons on Tuesday night when they host the Portland Trail Blazers. Winning consecutive NBA championships for the first time in franchise history would cement that status.

San Antonio is tied with Phoenix and Dallas at 9-2 odds to repeat as NBA champions at Sportsbook.com. 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 Tim Duncan and Finals MVP Tony Parker will lead the effort to win back-to-back titles. 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 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.

The Spurs opened officially as 12.5-point favorites and the wagering public has jumped all over that number and the Spurs have been moved a full point higher. The Duncan Gang is 12-9 ATS as home favorites of 12.5 or more points the last three years.

While the Spurs have set the league standard, the Trail Blazers appeared ready for a resurgence after a fortuitous off-season. After failing to make the playoffs, Portland won the NBA Draft lottery and selected Greg 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, as 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.

For Portland in the opener it is about finding ways to score points against the defensive-mined Spurs. The Blazers are 14-39 ATS when they score 86 or less points in a game over the last three seasons. Conversely, San Antonio is deadly 33-5 ATS when they allow 86 or less points in a game over the last two seasons. If the Spurs pound the ball inside and kick it back out making 48 to 51 percent of shot attempts they will improve to 22-8 ATS.

San Antonio has won 10 straight games (6-4 ATS) between these Western Conference teams since a 107-99 loss Jan. 24, 2005. The Spurs also have reeled off eight straight home victories over the Blazers, covering six times since losing back on Nov. 9, 2002.

The first game of the NBA season is on TNT starting at 8 Eastern.
StatFox Power Line Spurs by 19
StatFox Pick Spurs cover

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