On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

 —  January 4, 2005

Let’s face facts here — the only part of this game Los Angeles sports fans are going to see tonight is when the Orange Bowl is at halftime or at commercial and they flip their bar stool around to squint at the television over in the corner with the Lakers’ game on.

But this should be a good game and a good test — the Los Angeles Lakers of Los Angeles against the San Antonio Spurs. Just for fun I’m going to start today out with some Spurs trivia: What is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s basketball tie to Southern California? (Answer at the end of this entry).

The reason the Spurs are the best team in basketball right now is simple: Defense. They have been the best in the league by far this season. Spurs opponents are averaging 92.3 points per 100 possessions — the best number in the league by 4.5 points. (Just for comparison, the Lakers give up 102.5 points per 100 possessions, a more than 10-point difference).

There aren’t many weaknesses in the Spurs defense to attack — one would be to push the ball up, something the Lakers have done better the past couple of games. Teams that shoot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock have an eFG% of 47.7% against the Spurs, from there it just goes on down,

Another thing the Lakers have done better the past couple of games has been in the use of Lamar Odom. He’s brought the ball out of the backcourt off rebounds, creating a couple of fast-break chances. Also, he and Kobe are starting to develop a two-man game that, if they ever get it down, could be devastating.

Offensively the Spurs are good, seventh best in the league at 105 points per 100 possessions. We should note this is actually one spot behind the Lakers (105.1). Obviously the lynch pin is Tim Duncan, who is having another MVP-caliber year with a PER of 29.09 and leading his team in Roland Rating (on/off court plus-minus system) with +17.3 per game. The Spurs also have been getting great play out of Manu Ginobili, with his 22.47 PER.

Of course, don’t forget point guard Tony Parker, who has a 16.94 PER — and we know what quick point guards do to the Lakers.

One other player to watch is rookie point guard Beno Udrih, who has a PER of 17.00 this season. I wish that Rudy T. would start to use Sasha Vujacic in the same way Popovich uses Udrih, getting him 14 minutes a game and transitioning the talented Slovenian into the NBA. With all the problems we have at the point, it’s time Sasha started with some on-the-job training.

The last time these two teams met was the third game of the season and the Spurs pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and had a team eFG% of 51.1% in handily beating the Lakers. At home the Spurs are 14-1, the Lakers are 5-6 on the road this season.

How much the Lakers have grown since that early November game will be on display tonight. For those of you watching.

Trivia Answer: Popovich got his first head coaching job at Div. III Pomona-Pitzer. He spent eight years on the Claremont campuses until Larry Brown hired him away as an NBA assistant.

I know at least one loyal reader of this site knew that — my wife seved as one of the Sagehen’s staticiticans in the final years of Popovich’s term there. (About the Sagehens — why a school would choose a mascot that, in the face of danger, plays dead is a topic for another day.)