Preview & Chat: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  March 12, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs

Records: Lakers 51-13 (1st in the West) Spurs 43-20 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.9 (1st in league) Spurs 108.7 (14th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Spurs 104.0 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs Tony Parker, Roger Mason, Michael Finley, Mat Bonner, Tim Duncan

The Lakers coming in: For all the hype about statistics and Battier and Kobe, there was one line in that piece that is forgotten. Watching the game with a Rockets executive, the executive says it is a case of “pick your poison” with Kobe. You can do everything right, and he will still hit the shot a frightening amount of the time. I think when that article was published, the Rockets front office winced a little because they knew this game was coming — the article portrayed the Rockets front office as almost arrogant regarding stopping Kobe (that may have been more the focus of the writer than what actually happened), and you have to be careful about pissing off Kobe and making him hyper-focused. Artest being physical and barking at him doesn’t help.

A few people in the comments said they want to get back to more team-oriented ball tonight, and I think the Lakers will. But on a night when the best player in the game is hot, you ride that train.

The real big news last night was the move of Trevor Ariza to the starting lineup — at the request of Luke Walton. Credit Walton for taking the step.

More to the point, this is another case of Phil letting the players figure out for themselves what is needed, not just dictating change. Rather than forcing Ariza to start as many coaches would have done earlier in the year, Phil let everyone figure it out for themselves, and with that they are far more accepting of their roles.

I think we’ve all known Ariza was the best Laker three this season — the best defender, the guy playing with the most aggression. Now he is the starter, and he makes the first five that much better because of the defense, because he works well from the weakside (with Kobe and Pau dominating the strong side), because he can get some easy baskets in transition, and he will get some boards. The key on offense will be hitting some threes — he is up to 31.7% from there for the season, but is just 24.9% in the last 10 games.

Walton to the second unit also means that unit may slow down a little, but they will run the offense and get shots out of it. That is what happened last night, and they looked better. Once Bynum returns and Odom (or Bynum) play with the second unit, all the better. Imagine the ball movement of a second unit with Farmar, Walton and Odom — that is going to expand leads because teams will not be used to dealing with that type of play.

The Spurs Coming In: This is a team that remains with two-thirds of the Big Three — Manu is out. The question has to be, how far can they go in the postseason without him at 100%?

Over at 48 Minutes of Hell, there is an interesting talk about Bruce Bowen. The issue is, while he has slowed, their defensive numbers are still much better when he plays.

If Bowen remains such a potent defensive force than why has Popovich decreased his minutes so significantly? Well, two reasons. The first is that little number I mentioned earlier: 37. Bowen is borderline psychotic about his conditioning but no workout regimen can bring the biological clock to a screeching halt. If Popovich wants Bowen to continue to be as effective as he once was, he realizes Bruce has to be used in an increasingly surgical manner.

The second reason has a lot to do with the Lakers, actually. After a 4-1 thumping in last year’s Western Conference Finals, everyone understood that the Spurs needed some tweaking if they were going to sneak past LA this season. The most decisive “tweak” Popovich made was to use more offensive minded 5-man units a greater percentage of the time. By replacing Finley with Mason, Bowen with Finley, and Oberto with Bonner, Popovich sacrificed defensive ability for offensive output at 3 of the 5 starting positions.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I think this is the right strategy. No matter what point of decline you think Bowen may be at, it is clear this team is no longer the defensive juggernaut we once were. We may still be one of the top 5 defensive teams in the league but we do not possess the talent to stop the Lakers entirely; our best hope is to slow them down. But in order for the Spurs to win a 7 game series against the Lake Show (or at least stand a better chance than last season), we have to show more offensive consistency than we did in ‘08. I often complain about the awful droughts the Spurs’ offense suffered last season. The Spurs cannot sacrifice an entire quarter of offensive output and expect to outscore LA over the course of 48 minutes. By leaving more shooters and less stoppers on the floor, Pop is giving us a better chance to upset Los Angeles.

Keys To The Game: Okay, we’ve talked about everyone else, but this game really comes down to Tony Parker — if he gets in the lane a lot, the Spurs win, if the Lakers are focused and keep him out, they win. Without Manu, he is the only one who can really create his own offense off the dribble for the Spurs.

Rotations to shooters at the three-point line, the closeouts, have to be quick. The Spurs will make the extra pass to the open man, so you have to get out there.

The Lakers length bothers Tim Duncan, but you can’t just give that man one look all night. Double sometimes (and from different places), man up others, just don’t let him get comfortable. Then go at him on offense with Pau and make him work at both ends.

Try to push the pace and get some transition baskets, but don’t be reckless about it. Push and if it is not there pull back and be patient with the offense. But there are some easy baskets to be had.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. start on TNT nationally. Also, for a fun live blog, log on to the Wall Street Journal — yes, the WSJ — where Zach of Celtics Hub is doing the live blog. Yes, a Celtics guy, but a very smart hoops guy and fan as well. He will have some good insights.

225 responses to Preview & Chat: The San Antonio Spurs

  1. j. d. hastings March 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Oh, Lebron…


  2. omg if I was a suns fan i would want to kill j rich, who does a 360 in a tight fourh quarter with lebron james behind them, never think i would see lebron miss a dunk


  3. Yeah. That was a great block Reggie Miller. Are you blind? When you can take a swipe at someone’s hands, it’s easy to block a shot…


  4. 197, harold ,that’s not true. Rondo, Perkins, and Paul Pierce have all been Celtics for their entire careers. Same goes for Tony Allen, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, many of their supplementary bench players. While agree that most of the Lakers are home-grown, 2 of the biggest ones, Lamar and Pau, were imported from elsewhere, similar to Ray Allen and KG on Boston.

    As for all the boastful trash-talking, some of the posts on this forum have become utter nonsense, after both wins and losses. When we lose, all the pessimists come out with stupid statements like “the Lakers aren’t tough enough” or “our bench is one of the worst in the league” or “we can’t beat any of the good teams in the league.” When we win, all the optimists come out, making idiotic statements like “no one can challenge us for the championship,” and “Boston and Cleveland are pushovers,” among other completely irrational statements, like claiming KG has no talent and Ray Allen is overrated.

    KG is one of the top 10 PF’s ever by consensus; no rational person can deny that. Between his stats, his defensive intensity, awards, and impact on his team, any statement belittling his talents is just idiocy. Ray Allen is one of the best pure shooters of all-time. He will break the record for three-point shots made, while remaining one of the top percentage shooters from all three areas (FG%, 3PFG%, FT%). Saying Fish is better than him as a shooter is ridiculous.

    This was a great win for the team. We just beat the 2nd best team in the Western Conference on their home floor. Who cares if we gave up a lead; the great teams always fight back on their home court, refusing to get embarassed in front of their own fans, which is exactly what the Spurs did. We managed to pull off a victory in their building, in March, during the playoff push. Savor this win.

    On that note, loved the playcalling down the stretch. We ran the Kobe-Gasol PNR every time down the floor during the last 7 minutes (with one Odom-Gasol PNR intermingled in there). Despite running the same play what had to be 7 times in a row, the Spurs had no defensive answer, which is just beautiful to behold. And our bench really ground it out in the early fourth quarter, with some huge buckets by Luke and Sasha. Overall, this is an enormously impressive win, but one that we shouldn’t get too carried away with, considering their best scorer was out.


  5. Talk about not wanting to lose…

    Syracue vs. Uconn

    5ot and counting…


  6. Labron banging knees again. I hope he survives this game in good health.


  7. holy crap! 6 OTs?? Is that a record?


  8. 208……finally


  9. Aaaand… that about does it for Phoenix I guess against the Cavs *sigh*

    Not unless someone else goes for a wild freefall in the following weeks, we won’t get a little taste of payback for them in the playoffs. I realize they’re not the same team back then, but still.

    On a side note, the Cavs are tied again with us for the best record right? Thankfully we still have that tie-breaker if things end up this way at the regular season end :p


  10. I really, really do not get it. That block by Lebron on J-Rich was clearly a foul. Ok, the referees missed it. That’s fine! But everybody is still gushing over it as if it was a clean block. I am seriously getting sick of this love-fest for Lebron.


  11. 196. harold –
    Hollinger had this to say about ‘Kobe stoppers’:

    It’s hard to come up with a more spectacular finish to a game than the final 4:13 Kobe Bryant put together against Houston on Wednesday night. Through the first 43-plus minutes, Bryant had a relatively mundane outing, needing 19 shot tries (including one during which he was fouled) to generate 19 points.

    But in the final 4:13, he nearly matched that total with 18 points, and used just nine possessions in doing it (including one during which he turned the ball over). His woofing battle with Ron Artest added to the theater and underscored a key decision Houston made late — taking Shane Battier off the floor for Von Wafer.

    Wafer was undeniably hot, scoring 20 points in 28 minutes compared to the four put up by Battier, and the fact that Battier missed all four of his 3-point attempts undoubtedly made it a little easier for L.A. to double Yao Ming.

    That said, Battier’s history as a Kobe stopper is much more accomplished than Artest’s, so his being on the bench until 1:02 remained with Kobe already 10 points into his onslaught was notable. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered — Bryant got an and-one on Battier immediately after he checked in — but this might be one case Rick Adelman will regret riding a hot hand.

    Great game tonight. The -12 on Walton’s part was interesting. Because he made key plays, his impact may have seemed more salient than it actually was. The +/- is very much reflective of what players you’re playing against and what players you’re playing with, so obviously with Farmar committing turnovers and that stretch in the 3rd when the bench ignored Gasol, that number decreases for Walton. This is why the Roland rating takes the difference between you and your opposing player or substitute.
    I’m glad to see our defensive focus upped a notch tonight. That’s why we won the game. Our closeouts were decent, but it seemed like we could’ve been smarter about choosing when to help. The helper got drawn in at times when the penetrator did not pose a significant threat i.e. someone else was in position to cut him off. But I’m happy since playing the same way we wouldn’t t expect 65% of threes to go in.
    I’m not worried about Utah because they have no inside presence and only end up having to foul when their defense is compromised. The Celtics could be very dangerous with the improved play of Rondo/Perkins, especially with a short rotation in the playoffs. All opponents are dangerous. It’s the NBA for god sakes. I think maybe some of the borderline juvenile commenters feel that our talent and potential is far greater than these teams. We’ve shown we can guard and execute brilliantly. But potential certainly does not translate automatically to success and this does not mean the playoffs will be a walk in the park.
    One last note. Did Kobe take a single shot in the paint? His work was all on the perimeter. And it was so sublime to watch. I’ve had gripes with his shot selection, but tonight I may have had a slight change of heart. It got me thinking, especially after the comment that Barkley made about how the Lakers would win 70 games w/ LeBron instead of Kobe. Kobe takes difficult jumpers when the team needs it, whether it be the clock ticking down, or the offensive set failed to get a good look, he has to make something of nothing and this is very difficult to do. LeBron, on the other hand, takes shots in the motion of the offense. When he tries to create or jack up difficult shots during the same circumstances, he probably converts at a much lower frequency. So while he has a higher shooting percentage and is thought of as a more ‘team-oriented’ player, he may actually not be helping his team as much as Kobe. Creating impossible shots against a compromised defense is a huge net bonus, while making shots when the defense is already compromised can be done by an NBA player with decent skills. Anyone care to comment on this?


  12. That was a clear foul on LeBron’s block of Richardson. Not to say that Richardson isn’t a moron for not figuring out that LeBron is coming at a billion miles an hour to swat whatever shot comes up, but anyways.

    Our second unit tonight was sustained by the two people we thought wouldn’t contribute a whole lot at the start of the year — Powell and Walton — and brought down by the two players we thought were going to carry it — Farmar and Vujacic. The offense flows so much more smoothly when Walton is on the floor, and Powell is showing how good of a replacement he is for Ronny (besides the dancing, which I’m fairly certain won’t be duplicated for a long time). Farmar needs to settle down in the halfcourt and not try for home run passes to operate the offense. Sasha needs to stop at the three point line and wait for an open look with his feet set than trying to hit a fadeaway jumper after trying and failing to beat his man off the dribble. As we’ve frequently stated, people trying to play outside their roles hurt this team, and Farmar and Sasha have been trying to do that all year.

    Anyhow, with this out of the way, the hardest two-game stretch for us for the rest of the season is out of the way. For the rest of the season, our remaining (possibly) difficult games are Dallas, @Detroit, @Atlanta, Houston, Denver, @Portland, and Utah. Of those, the only ones that really show a decent amount of difficulty are Detroit, who seems to have their mojo back with Iverson going back to the bench, Atlanta, who is a tough team to play in their house, Houston, although I doubt their chances of beating us at home, and Portland, possibly the hardest game left in the regular season. Now, let’s see we lose four of the tough games and win the rest. That leaves us at 65-17, which is a pretty damn good record.

    Cleveland, which at this point is our only real threat for HCA seeing as Boston is slipping with no Rondo and no Garnett, has Orlando, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, @Orlando, San Antonio, and Boston as its remaining fairly tough games. The key point is that with the exception of Orlando, all of these games are at home, where only we have been able to beat them. That said, they have to finish with a record of 66-16 or better — as we have the tiebreaker — to get HCA. That gives them three or fewer losses, meaning that they’re going to have to lose some home games or get upset on the road outside of Orlando (go Washington!) for us to claim HCA. Now, we certainly could finish with a record better than 65-17, but it’s going to be a remarkably close race between Cleveland and us. We don’t have a whole lot of margin for error, and we might end up banking on the Cavs losing a few down the stretch.

    All this said though, I think Phil and Kobe will keep the team pretty motivated for the prospect of HCA for the remainder of the season, so it should be a fun finish.


  13. The Dude Abides March 12, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    202. I want to kill* J-Rich, and I’m a Laker fan.


    210. pw, I’m sure the ref near the play knew it was a foul, but didn’t call it because it was an extremely stupid and selfish play by J-Rich. Down two points, with nine minutes left in the game, and instead of just doing a merely exciting breakaway dunk he tries a 360 with LeBron breathing down his neck? No way I’m bailing him out with a foul on a play like that if I’m a ref. That was a six-point swing. Instead of a tie score, the “block” happened and the Cavs went down and hit a three, then J-Rich picked up a T for arguing and the Cavs make the FT and go up six. Pathetic. I bet Steve Nash and Grant Hill want to strangle him. But what do you expect from a guy who drives 100 MPH through city streets and doesn’t put his toddler in a car seat or seat belt?


  14. Thanks Don.

    Zephid, I know we got Lamar for Shaq, but he’s been with us for a while now. Quite unlike the Celts who just got them last year… and the players the C’s got are clearly better associated with other teams than the Celtics.

    Anyway, no, I honestly won’t pause much when somebody offers Paul/Allen/Garnett for anyone 1:1 on our roster outside of Kobe in terms of talent – but there is a minor thing called salary and I’m not sure if each of them is worth that much more than the players they’ll replace.


  15. I just noticed now how funny Bill Simmons is when he isn’t maligning the Lakers or blindly praising the Leps….



  16. Just watched the LeBron block and can’t stop asking myself:

    Was that not a RECKLESS play by LeBron?

    Sure LBJ didn’t get the guy’s head. Sure JRich was stupid. Sure it was LBJ not Trevor. Sure nothing serious happened afterwards.

    But, if you look at it, LBJ viciously swiped the guy’s arms and could’ve really slammed the guy against the backboard and broken some hands or fingers.


  17. Harold – i had that EXACT same thought! I’ve been waiting on a post by Abbott comparing LeBron’s play to hunting deer in a crowded street, but I don’t think it’s forthcoming…


  18. the only difference is lebron’s leaping ability is about twice ariza’s and he got high enough to not have to swipe the head as well… also.. jRich is way athletic.. more than rudy anyway..

    but i agree.. it was equally reckless and the rules shdn’t be different just because u and ur victim are more athletic/agile..


  19. and i really hope we don’t stop calling reckless fouls just because the we don’t wanna “bail out” the victims’ bonehead plays…


  20. Luke’s -12 is meaningless, it might have been -25 for the second unit if he wasn’t in there.


  21. 221. I think you hit the nail on the head.


  22. I’m just really happy to see Walton playing like we know he can again. For a while there it was like he forgot how to play BB and looked completely dejected, like a guy just waiting for the ax to fall. maybe he got a talking to from Bill.

    powell has been a nice surprise. also, why doesn’t mbenga get more PT? nice to have a big guy who can sink the 15-20 footer.

    cavs is looking scary. andrew bynum, lakers nation turns its hopeful eyes to you, woowoowoo.


  23. One of the things Luke brings to the second unit is that he actually understands and can run the Triangle offense as often the second unit looks lost in the set offense.

    It’s easy to run the offense with Kobe, Fish and Gasol, but with Jordan, Sasha and Ariza it does not flow so well. So Ariza can function well with the starters and Luke can provide some semblence of structure to the second unit.


  24. Isn’t it kind of funny that the reason we added Luke to the first team earlier in the year was because they had forgotten how to run the triangle?