After his Portland Trail Blazers were knocked out of last year's playoffs, LaMarcus Aldridge said the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs had "showed us where we are trying to go."
Now Aldridge and the Northwest Division-leading Blazers have a chance to see just how far they've come Monday night when they face San Antonio for the first time since that second-round postseason series.
The Spurs, though, could be without Tony Parker after he sat out Sunday's 99-91 win at Denver because of a mild left hamstring strain that has caused him to miss four of the last five games.
The star point guard averaged 23 points on 52 percent shooting in the first four games of last year's conference semifinal series win over Portland before having to leave the decisive fifth game with the same injury.
San Antonio (17-7) looks for another strong defensive effort after holding the Nuggets to 41.0 percent shooting while forcing a season high-tying 21 turnovers to avoid their third loss in four games.
The Spurs limited Aldridge to a 39.8 field-goal percentage - far below his 45.8 regular-season mark - over the last four games of their 2014 playoff series. Fellow All-Star Damian Lillard shot better than 40 percent only once in the five games.
"That's our last time seeing them, when they beat up on us in the playoffs," Lillard told the team's official website. "Of course we want to play well against them, we want to defend our home court."
Aldridge and Lillard struggled from the field in Saturday's 95-85 win at Indiana, but came up big in the fourth quarter with back-to-back 19-foot jumpers to help the Blazers (18-6) finish their five-game trip with a winning record.
Aldridge finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds while missing 15 of 23 shots, while Lillard scored 18 on 7-of-22 shooting. Aldridge has slumped of late with a 41.0 field-goal percentage despite averaging 21.5 points over his last six games.
The Blazers had won four straight regular-season meetings with the Spurs before dropping the last two last season. They've won nine of the last 11 in the regular season in Portland.
"It's always tough coming off a road trip and having your first home game, but we've always played well against them in the regular season," Lillard added. "It's going to be a challenge like it always is."
San Antonio has quite a challenge ahead over the next six games, facing Portland twice, Memphis, Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers and surging Oklahoma City.
Kawhi Leonard, who scored 17 per game in last year's playoff series, had 18 points, eight rebounds, a career-best six blocks and a career high-tying five steals Sunday in his return from a two-game absence due to a bruised hand.
''It didn't feel 100 percent but I felt I could fight through it,'' he said. ''I'm just out there playing, trying to make a play.''
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili added 15 apiece Sunday as the Spurs bounced back from a humbling overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Duncan has averaged 19 points, 13.7 rebounds and three blocks while playing in three of the past four.
The Spurs have been productive without Parker, scoring 107.4 per game on 49.4 percent shooting in their last five. They'll try to continue that level of play against Portland, which has held opponents to a 40.7 field-goal percentage in its past four.