Preview & Chat: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  January 25, 2009

Texas News - January 14, 2009
Records: Lakers 34-8 (1st in West) Spurs 29-13 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Spurs 108.2 (13th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.9 (6th in league) Spurs 104.5 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Roger Mason Jr., Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan

Lakers Notes: I’m sure the ABC crew today will be playing up the revenge angle after the loss 11 days ago, but I’m not sure between these two teams there can be a statement game in January. They are just too familiar with each other and in a playoff setting for one game to mean that much now.

But, I also think this is a better look at what we may see when these teams meet in May. The last meeting the Lakers were on the second game of a back-to-back, were without Sasha Vujacic as a backup point and Luke Walton as a starting three. This is a better version of what the Lakers should look like in the playoffs. *knocking on wood*

That said, right now I agree with David Thorpe, ESPN.com analyst and Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG, that the Spurs are the biggest threat in the West to the Lakers. Here’s what he said in a post a couple of days ago.

I still think San Antonio is the most dangerous threat to LA. First of all, they beat the Spurs 3 times in the playoffs last year by 4, 2, and 8 points. In those games, a severely disabled Manu scored 10, 7, and 9 points. Bigger picture — LA has an excellent defensive team because of the way they work together, but they have only 1 or two very good individual defenders. So a team like San Antonio, with 3 stars (when healthy), really puts a lot of pressure on that defense to move as a unit. Also, the Spurs are gritty tough (like Boston), forcing all of LA’s softness to the forefront. If they play with force, LA can win that series. But can they play with force, assuming all 3 of the Spurs stars are healthy?

In the Blueprint for Beating the Lakers some of the things discussed were having a PG that could penetrate, a scorer at the three and a big that can pull at least one of our 7 footers away from the basket as help. That describes the Spurs. Still, right now, I think we win a 7 game series with San Antonio. I hope I still feel that way after today’s game.

The Spurs Coming in: A couple weeks ago, the Spurs knocked off the Lakers in one of the more entertaining games of the season. How much does that win matter to the Spurs? How much should they take away from it? Does it give us much insight if these teams met in May? I threw that question at Graydon Gordian of the brilliant 48 minutes of Hell.

Obviously it was a boost of confidence to get a win against the Lakers but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it, partially because it is January, partially because your bench wasn’t at full strength. The Lakers still remain the one team in the West I believe we would lose to in a 7 game series. I believe, if fully healthy, that it would be a more competitive series than last year because I, unlike a lot of people, actually believe this team has gotten better, not worse. But I still believe, as currently constructed, we would most likely lose.

That being said, we have made some personnel adjustments that I believe give us a better chance against the Lakers. In particular we are leaving an offensive minded squad on the floor for a greater percentage of the time. As game one of the WCF last season demonstrated, I don’t believe we have the defensive prowess to create a lead and merely hold it. If we want to win games we have to be constantly expanding that lead. Or, more likely, making some sort of attempt to match you guys shot-for-shot. Now, obviously we can’t do just that, but if Bowen is at the point in his career where he is getting burned by Kobe anyways, why not just let Mason get burned and leave ourselves with a more versatile offensive weapon on the floor. Throughout the season Pop has slowly begun creeping away from his stodgy, defensive-minded lineups and deploying more balanced, offensively sustainable groups. Subsequently we are experiencing far fewer of those abysmal offensive droughts we were known to experience last season. This trend gives us a better shot at toppling the Lake Show.

As I said, I believe we would lose to you guys in 7 but I still think we are your greatest threat (in the West). Duncan will play magnificently in the post season as first ballot hall-of-famers are known to do. Parker will continue to create match-up problems for your backcourt. Manu will remain a threat to explode offensively at any given moment. Mason will hopefully make a couple of late game daggers where Barry failed to. But most importantly, this is a team that is not afraid of LA. We have lost and won high stakes contests time and time again. We will not easily be phased. If anything, the inability of the Spurs to be intimidated is one of the things I might take from the first game.

Keys to game: Last meeting was a see-saw affair until the Spurs made a 9-1 run on the Lakers bench in the third quarter, then the Lakers responded in the fourth with their own run. These kind of games often end with a little bit of luck — Fisher with the rare mental mistake and a great shot by Roger Mason (he’s beat the Suns and Clippers with big shots as well). Credit to him for making the play.

Controlling the paint will be the key in this game. The Lakers lead the NBA in points in the paint per game at 46.4, while the Spurs give up just 33.3 in the league, second best in the league. (By the way, take a few guesses in the comments about what team leads the league in protecting the paint, it’s not who I would have thought). We need a continuation of Andrew Bynum’s last few games here.

It’s a challenge to slow the Spurs offense because of balance, six players scored in double digits in the last meeting. We’ve discussed how to slow Tony Parker in the past (go under the pick-and-roll, he’s a good jump shooter but he’s more dangerous driving the lane) and the Lakers need to do that. Pau Gasol did a reasonably good job on Duncan last game (9 of 19 from the floor) and making him less efficient is always a key. That said, Duncan has a double-double in his last six games, and you don’t stop him. I expect he’d get his seventh today.

The bigger challenge is Manu (he had 27 in the last game). I think Ariza has to be the man here, and the goal is to get Manu to drive left (he is about 60-40 to the right side with drives and seems to finish better going that way).

The Spurs are a very good three-point shooting team, the Lakers cannot let them set up out there and get good looks (part of that goes back to not letting Parker and Manu in the paint for kick-outs). As a team, the Spurs shoot 39.7% from three, second best percentage in the NBA, and in the last game they were 50% against the Lakers (10 three pointers were key). The Lakers need to close out on threes.

Where you can watch: 12:30 on ABC, right after Dirk finishes going for 55 and the Mavs knock off the Celtics (hey, I guy can dream).

Kurt

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