Records: Lakers 55-21 (1st in West, 2nd in NBA), Spurs 46-29 (7th in West, 8.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (10th in NBA), Spurs 110.0 (9th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.3 (5th in NBA), 104.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs: George Hill, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan
Injury Updates: Andrew Bynum was reevaluated after Friday’s win and is making progress in his recovery process. However, that means that he’s still not ready for physical activity and will have another MRI on Monday or Tuesday. While it’s tough waiting for ‘Drew to get back, I think we can all agree that it’s best that he’s as close to 100% healthy as possible before his return. Sure, the Lakers could use his presence in the paint right now, but they’ll truly need him in the playoffs. If rushing him back now in any way jeopardizes his playoff availability that would be worse news than the original injury. Hopefully by Tuesday we’ll have a new timeline that has him back within the week. As for Luke Walton, he participated in his first full practice on Saturday and should be ready to play in today’s contest. Phil has said that while Luke is not some second unit savior, his presence does provide the second team another offensive initiator outside of their guards (and it’s not like they’re doing a ton of initiating anyway). If there’s one thing that Luke does well it’s run our sets with the attempt to get everyone involved, so I’m happy to have him back. We’ll see if he gets some quality minutes today and hope that he can shake off the rust and make a difference on the second team.
The Spurs Coming in: Not too much has changed for San Antonio since the last time we saw this team. They’re still playing well and still piling up the wins. In the 5 games that they’ve played since the last time we played, they’ve gone 4-1 with wins over Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston. Their only loss was to the lowly Nets, but that was on a night where Ginobili didn’t play and where the Nets were looking get their 10th win and pass the 1973 Philly 76ers mark (9 wins) to no longer be considered as the worst team of all time. And Ginobili not playing is a pretty big deal. He’s continued his hot streak since the last Lakers game and is carrying this Spurs team on offense every game. In the Spurs’ last game, Ginobili torched the Magic for 43 points and made shot after shot down the stretch to put Orlando away. The man is just playing amazing basketball, on both ends of the court, and has really taken over the lead playmaking role with Parker out.
Keys to game: Since the Lakers just played this team 5 games ago, everything that needs to be done to beat this team should be fresh on the minds of the players. On offense, the Lakers need to go into Gasol inside and also get the ball into the hands of Kobe and Odom on the wings so they can attack the Spurs’ defenders that don’t match up well with them. LO will likely be guarded by McDyess again and that is a match up that is tilted heavily in the Lakers’ favor. Odom needs to use his speed and quickness in both transition and in the half court to make plays. As for Kobe, in the last game he was very efficient shooting the ball (11-16) and was able to score at will against Ginobili, Hill, Jefferson, and Bogans. And while hoping for that level of efficiency again may be wishful thinking in today’s game, it’s quite possible as none of those players are “lock down” defenders that can bother Kobe for long stretches.
On defense, the key to this game is slowing Ginobili, Duncan, and Hill. In the last game Ginobili was on fire from behind the three point line early, but Artest made him work for most of his buckets. We’ll need that same level of effort today, but will need to pay more attention to him behind the three point line and especially watch for his step back move where he feints a hard drive only to pull back and shoot the long ball. Marking him in P&R situations is also key as he’s really found ways to set up his teammates by turning the corner and compromising the defense. Slowing Hill is also the other tough task for the Lakers. Hill cut up the Lakers defense in the last meeting and put up 21 points in the first half of that game. However, the Lakers were able to slow him down in the second half and limit him to only one FT. Hopefully the Lakers looked at the game tape from those last 24 minutes and have a better plan in place going into this game to limit Hill’s effectiveness. Lastly, I don’t expect Duncan to have two bad games against us in a row. On March 24th Duncan only had 6 points on 11 shots and was bottled up by Gasol quite nicely. So, today, I look for an aggressive Duncan and for Pau to have his hands full. In the last game, Duncan couldn’t really get it going inside but never adjusted his game by going to his mid range jumpshot. Today, I think we may see Duncan go to his wing bank shot and for him to run the P&R with Manu where Timmy can pop to the top of the key and shoot that 18 footer that he likes. If he can knock that shot down today it will open up the rest of his game on offense. As I said earlier, Pau will have his hands full today. I think a big key will be Pau staying out of foul trouble so he can play as many minutes against Timmy as possible.
Overall, this is another building block game for the Lakers. We just had a very nice win against Utah, but all of that will quickly be forgotten if this game is lost. So, I hope to see an inspired Laker team today and one that can knock off another tough Western foe that we still have a good shot of seeing in the playoffs. Wins against a team like this can go a long way in reestablishing the confidence that has been absent over the last few weeks. Let’s go out and get that win.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start in the West, nationally on ABC. Also on ESPN radio 710am.