Records: Lakers 15-19 (11th in the West), Spurs 27-10 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (6th in the NBA), Spurs 107.0 (5th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (20th in the NBA), Spurs 98.7 (5th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Robert Sacre
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
Injuries: Lakers: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Jordan Hill (all out); Spurs: none
The Lakers Coming in: Before I get into anything else, a huge congratulations to Steve Nash on notching his 10,000th assist last night. The 10K assist club is just as hard to gain entrance to as the 30K points club that Kobe entered earlier this season. Nash’s dime came on a P&R (of course) on a nifty bounce pass to Jamison, leading him right to the rim for an easy two. Nash has done that countless times his career and though he’s mostly been a rival to the team I root for, I’m proud to say he did this deed wearing the forum blue and gold. Like Kobe, Nash is a once in a generation player and watching him play each night has been a pleasure. Not just because of the passes and the tremendous skill he plays with, but the grittiness and competitiveness in which he plays, the toughness he exudes, and the leadership he brings to the table each night.
The Lakers fought hard against the Rockets last night, but still lost their 4th straight game. The injuries to the Lakers’ bigs really exposed light to a few different things. First is that in recent games none of the Lakers bigs (save for Jordan Hill) have played as hard as Robert Sacre played last night. Sacre is a limited athlete and his overall skill level isn’t especially high, but he’s smart and he plays hard for every second he’s in the game. Watching him throw his body around and sprint into his roll after setting a pick was a contrast to how Dwight and Pau have played lately. Some of that is likely health related, but it doesn’t make any less true.
Second, the Lakers’ defense really is substandard and not having those bigs back there to erase some of the drives to the paint showed how bad the situation really is. The Rockets scored 60 points in the paint and did so relatively easily without a lot of fast breaks fueling those numbers. After the game D’Antoni remarked that defensively the Lakers “couldn’t stay in front of anyone”. It really can’t be said better or more succinctly than that. The Lakers wings don’t do a good enough job of guarding players off the dribble and it leads to defensive breakdowns of all sorts on nearly every possession. Some of this is effort related but the other part of it is simply that the Lakers don’t have the defenders to do the job consistently. Even guys like Kobe and Ron can only slide with their man for a dribble or two before they give up the corner that turns into a driving lane.
So, here the Lakers are. Losers of 4 straight with little optimism on hand to make anyone think it will turn around anytime soon. I still believe this team can get it done, but with every loss (though these games with a gutted roster aren’t ones I can get too upset about) the hole only gets deeper and the time to turn it around only lessens.
The Spurs Coming in: You can look at the Spurs recent games two ways. Technically, they’ve lost two of three including their last game against the Hornets. However, the’ve also won 8 of their last 10. That translates to 7 straight wins before these recent hiccups. I’ll save you some trouble, the Spurs are a very good team who had a bad a couple of games recently. That happens to the good teams.
Every time the Lakers play the Spurs I find myself fawning over what they’ve been able to do over the years. Yes, the Lakers have the most recent championships, but the Spurs continue to play tremendous basketball year in and year out and always seem to be near the top of the standings. They do with a fantastic coach leading a group of selfless players who’s only goal seems to be to execute on each possession at the highest level possible. I’ve always had a respect for this team and what they’re doing this year only adds to that feeling.
Before I change gears, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the season that Tim Duncan is having. Did you know he’s right above Kobe in PER with a mark of 25.18? That in only 29 minutes a game he’s averaging over 17 points, nearly 10 rebounds, and a shade over 2 and a half blocks a game? That, for all intents and purposes, he’s playing as well as he has in 5 seasons? I only bring this all up because while we’ve been celebrating Kobe for his great year (and rightfully so), Duncan deserves that same type of recognition. Like our guy, Duncan is having a season for the ages at the tail end of his career. He’s out here showing why he’s one of the best to ever play the game. He may be a rival, but you have to respect and appreciate that.
Spurs Blogs: Check out 48 Minutes of Hell for great Spurs coverage.
Keys to game: Rather than exploring a bunch of X’s and O’s and trying to figure out a way the Lakers can win this game, let’s get this out of the way early: the Lakers will be hard pressed to win this game. The Lakers are undermanned at the positions they’d need to be healthy at in order to take advantage of this specific Spurs team who is strong on the wing but not as deep behind Duncan (thought Splitter is having a fine year). Furthermore, the Spurs have only lost 2 of their 16 home games and with the Lakers playing on the 2nd night of a back to back, the odds are really stacked against them.
Are there things the Lakers can do to win the game? Of course there are. They can defend the Spurs P&R game well but pushing the ball handler horizontally rather than giving up direct driving lanes. Then, the Lakers can close out on shooters to run them off the three point line (especially in the corner) and make the Spurs take pull up two-point jumpers against a hard closing defender. After all that, the Lakers can close defensive possessions with rebounds.
On offense, the Lakers could then take care of the ball by not committing turnovers. By playing free but precise basketball, the team would then create easy shots out of their own P&R situations and then move the ball on to open shooters when the defense collapses and rotates. Those open shooters would then hit their jumpers at a high clip, forcing more closeouts which would then cycle back to more ball movement to more open shooters.
All of this sounds great. And, of course, it could all play out that way. However, I bring you back to the point that the Lakers are severely undermanned, coming off a back to back, and facing one of the best teams in the league. So, what I’m really looking for is a team that will come in, play hard, and give the Spurs a fight until the end. If the game is close down the stretch, here’s hoping the collective playmaking and shotmaking of Kobe and Nash can turn what should be a loss into a win.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on ESPN. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.