Preview and Chat: The San Antonio Spurs

Phillip Barnett —  April 20, 2012

Records: Lakers 40-23 (3rd in the West), Spurs 43-16 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (11th in the NBA), Spurs 110.1 (1st in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (13th in the NBA), Spurs 103.3 (11th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair
Injuries: Lakers: none; Spurs: none

In the last week and a half, the Lakers played one of their best games of the season (one the road) and one of their worst (at home) — both coming against the San Antonio Spurs. The weirdest quirk in this year’s NBA schedule was having the Lakers and Spurs not play each other until April and have them match up three times in the last couple weeks of the season. The first two games have been just as quirky as the strange scheduling as we watched a couple of outlier performances turn into a couple of blow out games, which is something Darius touched on in the recap of the Lakers loss at home earlier this week.

In the first game we saw the Lakers dominate on the boards, with Andrew Bynum grabbing 30+ by himself and the Spurs only grabbing a single offensive rebound. Ron shot incredibly well from the field, including five-for-eight from three to the tune of 26 points, his highest to date as a member of the Lakers. The Lakers moved the ball well, had fairly good shot distribution and worked about as hard on the defensive end as we’ve seen all season. We also saw what might have been Tony Parker’s worst game of the season (two-for-12 shooting, four points, eight assists) while Manu Ginobili also struggled to make anything happened. Couple the above with the fact that the Lakers huge rebound advantage controlled the pace, you end with a pretty solid performance from the Lakers on the road.

However, just a week later the tables were turned and Tony. Parker. Went. Off. 29 points and 13 assists are both as wild to expect from the Frenchman as two points on .167 shooting. The Spurs also shifted the rebounding advantage in their favor — both teams recorded 37 rebounds, but this is one of those situations where “even is not even” (anyone who has played DB for a football team has heard that phrase). One of the Lakers biggest advantages over the Spurs is their ability to create second opportunities for themselves and prevent the same from happening for San Antonio, when those numbers are even, advantage Spurs. San Antonio shot 60 percent as a team from the field and were able to play at a pace they were more comfortable with. They got out and ran the Lakers off the floor, including an 18-0 run in the second quarter which saw the Lakers turn the ball over on five straight possessions. What made this game even weirder was the fact that the Lakers weren’t exactly horrible on the offensive end of the floor. The starters shot exactly .500 from the floor, the shot distribution was balanced almost exactly how you’d like a Kobe-less team to be and assisted on 28 of 39 made field goals. The Lakers just couldn’t get a stop.

Tonight, an element foreign to the first two games will finally show his face: Kobe Bryant. In his absence, the Lakers played fairly well — most notably the Bynum-Gasol-Artest troika. Artest scored 16+ points per game and shot 50 percent from the field. Bynum averaged 23 and 14 (18 and 12 on the season) and got to the line seven times per game. While Artest and Bynum have gotten much of the attention in Kobe’s absence, Pau has been just as good. He’s played more minutes than anyone in the last seven game (267), and while he’s been on the court, the Lakers offensive and defensive efficiency were 111.8 and 104.1, respectively. That +7.7 differential was the best on the team. While he was off the court, the OEff and DEff were 87.3 and 119.4 — a -32.1 differential. Suffice to say, Pau was pretty important during that seven game stretch without Kobe.

Tonight, those guys are going to lose some touches, but it’s going to be key for them to stay within the flow of the game and stay active with or without the ball in their hand. We can only hope that Mike Brown gets Kobe back into the flow of the game giving him his touches through a series of cross screens, curls toward the basket and spot up opportunities. For tonight, having Kobe handle the ball as little as possible would make for the most seamless integration of the team’s good play in his absence and the addition of the individual talent that Bean brings to the table.

Also, controlling the rebounds will control the pace. And controlling the pace seems to be the best way to beat this Spurs team. They’re not as good defensively as they used to be, and having them defend in the half court as much as possible keeps them from lighting up the box score. Andrew Bynum doesn’t have to grab 30 rebound, but the Lakers have to crash the boards as a collective unit. The same efforts need to be applied on the defensive end as well. In the last game, perimeter defenders failed to fight through screens and guards made them pay for going under screens by knocking down a barrage of jump shots. When bigs lazily hedged in P&R situations, Parker and Ginobili took it to the basket and consistently finished around the rim. Guys have to rotate to shooters, secondary help has to be on time and Bynum has to play with the intensity he had in their first meeting.

We shouldn’t expect a blowout win from either side. However, if the Lakers are disciplined on both sides of the ball, they keep Tony Parker out of the paint and crash the boards hard, they have the personnel and the game style to beat this Spurs team.

Where you can watch: 6:30 p.m. start on KCAL and nationally on ESPN. You can listen to the game on ESPN Radio 710 AM.

Phillip Barnett