Records: Lakers 29-8 (1st in West) Spurs 22-13 (5th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.2 (12th in league), Spurs 111.3 (4th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 100.9 (1st in league) Spurs 104.4 (10th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Keith Bogans, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, DeJuan “who needs an ACL” Blair
Lakers Tonight: Pau Gasol is a no go again tonight, although he is on the trip. I don’t know if he will play tomorrow or is just along so he can check out Dealey Plaza tomorrow. UPDATE: Phil Jackson said pregame Gasol is likely for Friday against the Clippers.
UPDATE #2: Luke Walton has been activated and may play a little tonight. Adam Morrison is out with a sore throat so Walton may get his minutes.
The Spurs Coming In: The Spurs started the season slowly, 9-9, and they just looked old and slow. But since then they have gone 13-4 and have started to look like the elite team everyone expected them to be prior to the season.
What is different about this Spurs team is that they are a very good offensive team with a pretty good defense — the opposite of how they were built for so many years. Tim Duncan is at the heart of the improved offense: While his points per game is the same as always (20) he is doing it on fewer shots. The key is his 10-15 foot shots are falling at a 52% clip, when he had never shot better than 46% from there before. Of course, he continues to rebound well, pass and do everything else well, too.
The other key for the Spurs is that the core trio is healthy. Tony Parker continues to slash to the rim and Manu Ginobili brings an all-around game. We’ve all seen them do it for years. What makes this interesting is this is a deeper Spurs team — every player getting significant minutes not named McDyess is shooting better than the league average true shooting percentage. Richard Jefferson has been solid (not spectacular), giving the Spurs needed athleticism, and DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonnner have played well along the font line.
For the veteran Spurs team, I’m not sure this game has great significance. But for their fans there seems to be some: They are not convinced this team is a contender. Beating the Lakers, even a slumping Lakers without their second best player, could give the fan base confidence.
Keys to game: There are no secrets here. These are the two best franchises of the last decade and neither Popovich or Jackson have really changed what they do in terms of Xs and Os. This is really a matter of execution.
For the Lakers, that has to start with stopping penetration. Parker and Ginobili are two of the best off the high screen in the game and the Lakers need to play this well for a change — the bigs need to come out and not let those two just turn the corner and go. What may be more troubling in Parker doesn’t really need a pick to get by anyone in the league, his quickness and hesitation move will do it. Fisher needs to bring the energy he did against Brandon Jennings, and the Lakers bigs need to be ready and rotate. Farmar has to bring smart play off the bench.
The Kobe/Manu matchup is going to be fun to watch tonight. Manu is a good, pesky defender and Kobe has shot 31.8% over his last four games — can Kobe find his shot or keep himself in check tonight?. Kobe will bring the energy on the defensive end tonight, he can’t play free safety off Manu (who is shooting 38.2% from three, so you have to follow him out to the line).
Duncan is Duncan, he is going to get his. I just love watching play against other teams. The key for Odom and Bynum (both likely will get time on him) is not to let him go off, not to let him carry them. He can hit the midrange shot so you have to come out on him, you can’t sag back.
One advantage the Lakers have is the undersized Blair trying to slow Bynum (they could put Duncan on Bynum, but then Odom has an advantage). Blair is strong and has played well, but he is an undersized rookie, nor is he quick enough to handle Odom. The Lakers need to go at him and get their points inside out. When the doubles come the Lakers need to knock down the open shot off the pass.
First game of a tough road back to back. The easiest of those games to win is the first one, the Lakers need to go after it tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:30 p.m. start on KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles, NBATV has the game nationally, and of course ESPN 710 radio.