Records: Lakers 30-6 (1st in West) Spurs 24-12 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (2nd in league) Spurs 108.3 (11th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (5th in league) Spurs 104.3 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Roger Mason Jr., Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan
Lakers Notes: Just an entertaining game last night. It was a hard fought and chippy effort from two teams that always play eachother tough, so the fact that the game came down to the final possesions is not a suprise. There were, however some suprises. VON WAFER! Who knew? Well, apparently The Kamenetzky Bros did…and have been on his bandwagon (for various reasons) since he was originally drafted by the Lakers. Von’s always been a little bit of a character (love the haircut), so check out that little tribute to a guy we once had, but now is playing quite well for the undermanned Rockets. As for a suprise from the Lakers, it was nice to see Lamar back in the lineup and doing the things that he can do that help this team win. I was not expecting him to be back this soon, but was happy that he could come into the office with the team being a bit understaffed at the moment. Kwame A. summed it up well in the comments:
What a difference Lamar Odom makes, the guy does a lot of stuff that helps a team win. Rotations on defense, attacking the basket, moving the ball from strong to weak, etc. The next time he runs somebody over, or steps in-bounds before throwing the ball in, give the guy a pass, cause we wouldn’t have won tonight without him.
Overall, last night might not have been our best game and we needed some Kobe heroics at the end, but that was a very good road win. We played a motivated team that, while undermanned themselves, had some strong performances from (the afforementioned) Wafer, Carl Landry, and Yao. I would have liked to have seen some different defensive strategies employed (O’ where have you gone, strong side zone?) but in the end I’ll take a win any way we can get one. We’ve had lot’s of trouble on the first night of back to backs (four of our six losses have come in that type of game) and I’m happy that we could fly out of Houston with the victory. Which leads us to tonight…
The Spurs Coming in: The Spurs are currently playing some very good ball. Sure, they’ve beaten up on some soft opponents and lost against Orlando in their last game, but overall they’re right where you’d expect them to be. Currently sitting 3rd in the Western Conference (in a percentage tie with the Nuggets), they’ve battled through Ginobili’s early season recovery from surgery and Tony Parker’s high ankle sprain to prove that, once again, they are one of the elite teams in the West and a true contender for the title. And speaking of the Spurs’ injuries, in some ways they have been a blessing in disguise for this team. While Parker and Ginobili were out, other players stepped to the forefront and showed that they are capable of being contributors for this team. First is the starter at SG, Roger Mason Jr. Castoff from the Wizzards, Mason has proven to be a very reliable outside shooting threat (47% on threes) and has been a steady player (double digit scoring in two thirds of their games) for the Spurs. Also benefitting from the absence of Parker and Ginobili is rookie George Hill. We know Hill as the guy that our coaching staff was hoping would fall to us in the 2nd round of this past draft. A guy we hoped could compete for backup PG minutes with Farmar. The Spurs know him as a smooth and poised guard that can score in a variety of ways and a guy that will surely help them as a spark off the bench in some important games this season and in seasons to come. From what I’ve seen of him, our coaches were right to want this kid and the Spurs are (once again) ahead of the curve in drafting players that can really contribute for them.
However, eventhough these new faces have emerged, the Spurs are still built on the big three of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe these guys, so I’m not going to on and on about them. However, I will say that Tony Parker is quietly having another strong season. He’s coming off a 31 point, 6 assist effort against the Magic and is averaging a cool 21 and 7 on the year. I’ll also add that Tim Duncan is having a throwback type season. His leadership when Paker and Ginobili were out was masterful and he continues to be the catalyst for this team. His consistency has always been his trademark, but this season is a testament to this quality. In 36 games, he’s had only five games where he’s scored under 17 points and only nine games where he’s had less than 9 rebounds. As for Manu, his minutes are down almost five a game, but the efficiency is still there. He’s still got a PER over 21 and is still a threat from anywhere on the court. More crafty than explosive at this point, he’s getting the job done night in and night out.
Keys to game: Defensively: As mentioned earlier the Spurs are still all about the Big 3 and any plan to beat this team starts with them. Parker is the exact type of guard that gives the Lakers fits. He will continuosly try to get to the rim and will test our rotations on penetration as well as our ability to recover to the perimeter when he drives and kicks out to shooters. He’ll go to the P&R on ten straight possesions if he needs to and we must be disciplined in our defense or he will hurt us. Per our normal strategy, we must try to make him a jumpshooter by going under screens and then trying to contest the jumper when does shoot. If we chase him over the screen, the big man must be ready to show hard while also not letting Parker split the double and get into the lane. If Parker shoots ten teardrops tonight, we have not done our job on defense. Another big key to stopping the Spurs attack is trying to contain Duncan. He’s taken a more active role in early offense this season and is getting more post up looks early in the clock. We must fight him for position and play sound position defense. I expect for Bynum to start out on Timmy and traditionally Andrew’s size and length has bothered him. If young ‘Drew can stay out of foul trouble, it will go a long way in limiting Duncan’s effectiveness. We must also be very aware of the three point line and recognizing where the Spurs shooters are. San Antonio leads the league in Three Point FG % and there are many shooters to track. We can’t give wide open, stand still looks to Finley, Bowen, Mason, Bonner, or Hill. We’ll need hard close outs tonight and I’d like to see us run them off the 3 point line and make them create off the dribble instead. Bowen and Bonner are especially less effective when they have to put the ball on the ground (and they’re also their best % shooters from deep) so it’s even more important to track them (Bowen will be in the corner and Bonner loves to Pick and Pop to the top of the key) and get them out of the places where they like to shoot from.
Offensively: This is a team that, in the recent past, has had trouble containing Kobe. Over the years and through their great battles, Kobe has learned to dissect Bruce Bowen’s defensive tendencies and really hurt the Spurs. This was most evident in last years playoff series against San Antonio where Kobe shot 53% from the field and basically killed the Spurs. He’ll have a different matchup tonight with Mason on him to start, but I would not be suprised to see Bowen get some extended minutes on Kobe. As for our bigs, like last night, this will be a test. Duncan is one of the best defenders of our generation and will likely hold down whoever he matches up with. I would think that he’d battle Gasol, but Popovich may not want Bonner attempting to keep Andrew off the offensive glass. So, I say, whoever Duncan doesn’t guard should be our main option on the block. Obviously Gasol will get his touches regardless of who’s on him, but if the Spurs put Bonner on him he should be featured on offense on nearly every possesion. If the Spurs put Bonner on Bynum, this should be another chance for ’Drew to get it going on offense. Andrew (despite last night’s effort) has been playing quite well on offense in the last several games and this could be another good night for him. Also, we must move the ball from side to side and make the Spurs move on defense. While their D is anchored by Duncan, they also start players whose calling card is not on that end of the court. Parker, Bonner, and Finley can all be taken advantage of and are not the most instinctive defensive players. If we run crisp sets and really move the ball, we will end up with open looks and we will score.
One final note: This is the first meeting between the Lakers and the Spurs since we eliminated them from the Playoffs last season. Think about how much we wanted to beat Boston when we saw them for the first time. Now apply that same perspective to the Spurs mindset and that of their fan base towards us. Not only do these franchises have a rich history and storied rivalry over the last ten years, but there are fresh wounds on their side. So don’t be suprised at an even greater level of hate by their fans towards us tonight. Expect there to be boos and expect Fisher to be a primary recipient. If you don’t know why, maybe you forgot about this. It’s apparent that they haven’t. And then for old times sake, there’s always this. So, expect a hard fought game and expect there to be a real home court advantage with the crowd going crazy.
One final, final note: For other thoughts on the game please go visit the excellent Spurs Blog 48 Minutes of Hell. They’ve got a Q&A up with Kurt and will also be providing some updated posts with some solid insights on the Lakers/Spurs rivalry.
Where you can watch: 6:00 pm start here on the West Coast, the game is on KCAL 9. Nationally, you’ll need league pass. you can watch on ESPN.