Records: Lakers 39-13 (1st in the West), Spurs 29-20 (6th in the West, 8.5 games behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.6 (9th in the NBA), Spurs 110.0 (7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.6 (4th in the NBA), Spurs 104.8 (10th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant? (game time decision), Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs: Tony Parker, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess
The Lakers Coming in: That screeching sound you hear are Lakers fans coming to quick halt as we learn that Kobe is undergoing further tests on his bum ankle and Bynum is likely out for tonight’s contest. Suddenly, the high that we all felt after the Portland game is gone and we’re now feeling a real concern for two of our best players. I still have Kobe listed as a starter, but I really don’t know if he’ll play. But since he’s still a game time decision, I think he may test out his bum wheel (if only because we will be even more short handed with Drew out) and give it a go tonight. He always loves to play the Spurs. Based off the history of both players, I’d be a bit more concerned about Bynum than Kobe. Any time the words Bynum, injury, and knee appear in the same sentence I start to think bad thoughts about his long term health and need to be talked down off the proverbial ledge. With the way that his past two seasons have gone, I don’t think any issue with a knee is minor for him even if it did come about from a routine knee to knee bump that happens pretty frequently. But with anything injury related to Kobe, I tend to shrug it off just because he consistently comes back early from any prolonged absence and is notorious for getting treatment 24/7 until he’s back into playing form. Maybe I’m giving Kobe too much credit here, but I think he’ll be back sooner rather than later.
The Spurs Coming in: The Spurs are a mystery that even the experts can’t crack. Before the season started, they were universally hailed as a team that could contend for a championship. They went against their past history of conscientious spending and jumped into luxury tax land for the first time in the Duncan era. So far, the results have not been what many expected. The problems they face are real and they’re in a dog fight for a top 4 seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. And while it may not be time to hit the panic button for fans of the Spurs, the truly concerned button was probably hit a couple of weeks ago.
Not all is bad for the Spurs, but they are underperforming as a group. Part of that can be directly attributed to the uneven play of Parker and Ginobili. Parker has been slowed by a variety of injuries all season. Most recently he’s had to deal with an ankle sprain that kept him out of three games before returning to the last two. And while I give Tony credit for fighting through the pain and trying to help his team by being in the lineup, his stats are down across the board and it’s affected his team. As for Ginobili, he’s just had an uneven season and may just be showing his age and the results that come from a career of relentless attack on the basket. Manu’s points are down to 13.2 per game (the lowest average since his 2nd season) and his impact as a sixth man has diminished in a manner that has really hurt the Spurs as they can no longer rely on a “starter” coming off the bench to change the game the minute he steps on the floor.
The one player that has not seen any real decline is Tim Duncan. He’s once again having an All-NBA type season on both ends of the floor. This man still guarantees you stat lines of 20/10/3 with almost two blocks a game while only committing two fouls. Fantastic stuff from this future hall of famer. Every year people who follow this league think Duncan is going to stop being effective and every year those people are proven wrong. I’ll believe he’s falling off when I actually see it. One other player to really watch is the emerging George Hill. Hill has been playing quite well this season and is doing everything well (though no one thing excellently). Hill has shown he’s a capable shooter and his deceptive size makes him a good finisher in the lane. He’s also a good off-the-ball mover and is a guy that you can’t turn your head on as he’ll sneak into the paint for easy buckets if you end up watching the ball when one of the other Spurs is going to work.
Keys to game: The last time these two teams met, Duncan just killed us on the block. The Big Fundamental used his textbook game to hit a variety of hook shots, wing banks, and runners that reminded everyone why he’s one of the all time great big men. Tonight, the Lakers bigs (sans Bynum) are going to have to contest every shot and force him to take the shots that he doesn’t want to take. That’s easier said than done, but I think we might see the occasional double team to force Timmy to pass the ball out when he’s got deep post position and give him his jumpshot (especially from the top of the key) as a preferred result in any set where Duncan is the shooter. If Duncan beats us with 15-18 footers, so be it. The Spurs are another team that will test our P&R defense with Parker and Hill handling the ball and Duncan/Blair/Dyess/Bonner doing the screening. In these sets, Dyess and Bonner are strictly pick and pop players, Blair will almost always roll to the cup, and Duncan will do both. So, we need to know personnel and tendencies and play each player to their strengths. As for the guards, Parker and Hill both love to turn the corner and get into the paint so our goals should be to make them jumpshooters. Make these guys bury low-ish percentage jumpshots and live with the results. Tonight is another night where we’ll need sharp rotations as the two players that are in the P&R can be decoys as the Spurs look for either a shooter in the (Joel Meyers sponsored) short corner or the other big man sitting stationary on the baseline for an open 15 footer. The Spurs are a team that run a bunch of set plays but they are all a part of a larger system that all the players have confidence in. In order to stop them, you need to play disciplined D and contest shots (or you just need them to go on one of their patented dry spells – I’m hoping for a bit of both tonight).
On offense, the Lakers need more of what they showed in Portland. The Spurs are a team that excels at making teams play in isolation and if the Lakers start to play a lot of one on one, the Spurs will have one the “style” game even if the shots go in. The Lakers need to enter the ball into the post, cut, screen, and move the ball. As individuals, the Spurs are not strong defenders (save Duncan) but as a group they can still get the job done (though not as well as in years past). So, move the ball, get the defense scrambling, and then attack them in their weakspots. One place where the Spurs have always been vulnerable is in the inbetween parts of the court – FT line, elbows, shallow wings. So, I hope to see a lot of our elbow sets and mid-range post ups for our wings where they can turn and face, then attack with either crisp passing to cutters or get up easier shots when they get into the paint.
Where you can watch: 7:30 pm start here on the West on TNT (which means more like 7:45) or on ESPN Radio 710am.