Records: Lakers 39-22 (3rd in the West), Spurs 43-16 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (10th in the NBA), Spurs 109.6 (2nd in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (13th in the NBA), Spurs 103.3 (12th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out), Jordan Hill (out); Spurs: none
These teams just played a week ago so let’s cut to the chase. This game matters for a variety of reasons but none more so than playoff seedings are still in play in the jam packed Western Conference. As the season comes to a close a key win or loss can change the match ups and turn the landscape into a rockier path than what existed just a day ago. And this year, maybe more than most, match ups will matter in determining who advances in each round and to the the Finals from the WC. And with the Spurs now in the #1 spot out West (and holding the tie breaker over the Thunder), OKC is on the Lakers side of the bracket – should both sides advance to round 2. That said, with two games left against the Spurs, the Lakers can impact that starting tonight…
Getting it done will take a similar formula to the one that earned them a W just a few days ago. In that game the Lakers defense turned up a notch, playing the P&R well, rotating quickly to shooters, and finishing possessions with rebounds. Andrew Bynum’s presence on in the paint meant few shots went unchallenged once the ball advanced past the foul line. His long arms served as deterrents and the safe landing for caroms and tonight that focus will need to be the same.
Offensively, the Lakers deliberate attack will also need to continue. The Spurs frontline was overwhelmed by the activity, size, and length that the Lakers offered as both Bynum and Gasol worked the interior well with McRoberts chipping in with his typical hustle. The Lakers will need to control the tempo and force the action to the paint where the Spurs don’t have the same caliber of players to match up. Bynum will need to be decisive with the ball and Pau will need to support him by providing spacing with his jumper and attacking the glass when help shifts towards his front court partner.
The desire to crash the glass must be countered with the need to get back on D, however. In the las game, the Spurs took advantage of the Lakers in transition with Parker turning on the jets and their shooters trailing the action to step into three pointers. Bonner was especially dangerous in this role as his defender often ran to the paint first only to find the big red-head camping 22 feet from the basket. The Lakers must hustle back on D, slow Parker and Ginobili in the open court and then mark shooters. Gary Neal will play tonight (he didn’t last time) and he offers another shooter that is capable of hitting from the shoulder and corner outside the arc.
The last game was a dominant effort from the Lakers but on some levels it was also sort of flukey. Manu and Parker were mostly quiet and Duncan had little impact on either side of the ball. It was the role players that kept the game close early on and a turn of better play from their stars should be expected. That said, the Lakers have the tools to slow the Spurs should they concentrate and focus on the little things that slow those players down. Parker must be forced to hit his jumper rather than getting into the paint free and clear. Manu must be kept to one side of the floor and not allowed to change directions multiple times in his forays to the hoop. And Timmy must be forced to guard the rim and rebound in single possessions while made to beat his man off the dribble on the other end.
If the Lakers can play a disciplined style against those three and while still recovering to shooters spacing the floor, this game can be a re-run of the last one. The eye popping totals may not end up being the same but the end result can be. The Lakers must simply work for it. With greater stakes beyond a simple W or L in the ledger at play, here’s to them doing it.
Where you can watch: 7:30PM start on Prime Ticket and nationally on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.