Game Preview & Chat: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  November 13, 2007

Records: Lakers 3-2; Spurs 6-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.5 (5th); Spurs 110.8 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (18th); Spurs 100.2 (6th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown (although it could be Mihm)
Spurs: Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Fabricio Oberto

Lakers Notes: Everyone is healthy, which leaves Phil Jackson with some more interesting “who not to play” decisions heading into this dreaded Texas two-step (remember it’s the Rockets tomorrow night). With the big bodies along the front lines the next couple of nights, expect all the centers to be dressed and used, while some of the reserve guards watch the game in street clothes.

The best part of being healthy was the game Lamar Odom played against the Timberwolves. He gives the Lakers a legitimate second scoring option and that should keep opening up the passing lanes for others. So long as the Lakers keep running the offense — and not reverting to the throw-it-to-Kobe-and-clear-out offense — a team that already has the fifth most efficient offense in the league could get even better.

The Laker rotations tonight could be closer to what we all imagined over the summer, but this will be the first time they will get serious game action so their could be bumps in the road. For the Lakers to have a chance tonight Luke Walton cannot have another game off the bench like he did against Minnesota.

The Spurs Coming In: There has been some talk in the comments here about the Spurs being slow starters. If so, the league is in a lot of trouble this year because the Spurs are already the best team going. (Technically the Celtics’ numbers are better early, but if the two teams met in a seven game series who are you picking? Exactly.)

We’ve got questions about the Spurs, like how Manu Ginobli has an early season PER of 34.45. So I asked Matthew Powell from over at Pounding The Rock what is going on with the Spurs

What is Manu Ginobili eating for breakfast and where can I get some? Or, at least, what is he doing so well early on?

This has been the topic du jour amongst Spurs fans in the early season (and you can read hundreds of related words on my blog). The safe opinion is that he’s rested after not playing for the Argentine national team this off-season, but after watching him play I know it’s more than that. Though recklessness is his trademark, he’s playing with an abandon that I’ve never seen out of him; taking threes early in the shot clock, attempting ridiculous passes to the likes of Matt Bonner, even getting into the face of opponents (something he’s never done before this year).

Personally, I think he’s finally comfortable with the notion of asserting himself as one the best players in the league. Which he is, whether people notice or not. He’s currently leading the league in PER and fifth in points per 48 minutes. Is that all that surprising considering he was ninth and fifteenth in those categories last year?

I thought the Spurs traditionally started slow, so what else is going on here?

Well, their schedule has been easy, Ginobili’s been trashing defenses and Robert Horry’s and Jacque Vaughn’s rotten corpses have stayed in street clothes.

Outside of staying healthy, what does this team need to do to repeat?

Nothing. They’ll beat Boston in 5 games, Ginobili wins the MVP and I get the entire Spur home crowd to chant “Nancy boy” during all of Ray Allen’s free throw attempts.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: I’m doing some Lakers writing again at LAist. The pieces there are aimed a little more mainstream but are fun — starting with five reasons you should be watching the Lakers.

Also, I rarely link to Kobe retrospectives anymore, but I really enjoyed the new one up at Sports Hub LA — Kobe as The Great Gatsby.

Keys To The Game: One thing to keep an eye on tonight is pace — the Lakers are playing at the sixth fastest pace in the league (96.6 possessions per game), while the Spurs are one of the slowest teams (88.2, 29th in the league). If one team can force the game to be at their pace, it will be a huge advantage. Another thing to look for, the Spurs don’t foul much on defense, so if the Lakers can get to the line that will be a big advantage.

Of course, there are also the great matchups — Bowen on Kobe, Ronny/Kwame (and likely others) on Duncan, Fisher and Farmar on Parker. But the biggest test will be the guys off the bench (or Kobe when he’s in) sticking with the very hot Manu. That last one could be the biggest key.

Defense and holding on to the ball have been Laker weak points this season, but if they don’t fix that the next three games (tonight, then the Rockets, then Detroit) that Lakers record will take a big hit.

Tonight’s Game: Where The Sixth Man of the Year Happens: I think this is a great test for the Lakers and they will rise up — remember the Lakers took two of three from San Antonio last year. But unless Fisher has another .04 in him it’s hard to predict a Laker victory on the road against a hot Spurs team. Still, if you want to get a split in Texas, this may be easier than beating Houston on the back end of a back-to-back.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), with NBA TV having national coverage. For those “watching” online, I’ll be with you because I’ll still be at the day job during the game. Reader Dan wrote in last week to suggest the Yahoo! gamecast was the best one going, so check that out.