Records: Lakers 43-37 (8th in the West), Spurs 58-21 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (8th in the NBA), Spurs 106.5 (7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (19th in the NBA), Spurs 99.0 (3rd in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out for the season), Steve Nash (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Spurs: Manu Ginobili (out), Boris Diaw (out)
Spurs Blogs: 48 Minutes of Hell is a great site. Give them a moment of your time.
Talking Points: The first game without Kobe Bryant will be a tough test for these Lakers. Steve Nash may or may not play, Metta World Peace (who may or may not start) is on the mend, and one of the best teams in the league is coming into Staples with something to play for. San Antonio has slipped behind the Thunder for the West’s top spot and, with either the reeling Lakers or the Jazz vying for the 8th spot, that number one seed has never looked nicer. The Spurs also have Tony Parker back in the fold to reek havoc on the Lakers’ now even more depleted backcourt. And while it’s nice to hear that Andrew Goudelock will be signed as another body to help, I doubt he does much in this game (and even if he does see time, he’s not exactly known for his defense).
That said, as disheartening as it is to think of a post-Kobe Lakers’ team, this is also a moment of opportunity. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have a chance to fill the leadership and production void. Fringe rotation players like Darius Morris, Chris Duhon, and Goudelock may get an opportunity to see minutes and they need to seize the moment and perform to the best of their abilities in them. Earlier this season Earl Clark was thrust into the rotation when injuries hit the players in front of him and he jumped on his chance to become a fixture in the lineup. No one can replace Kobe, but guys will get their chance to do more and this will be their chance to prove that they’re worthwhile players.
The ultimate focus, however, is about beating the Spurs. They’re a fantastic team who continue to marvel with their ability to play team basketball at an unbelievably high level. Even without Ginobili and Diaw, they have enough depth on their roster to win. Key to their attack is the Parker and Duncan combo and their ability to dictate offensive flow via the P&R and their weak side motion attack. If the Lakers are to win this game, they’ll need to find a way to slow down Parker while surrendering the types of shots to Duncan and the rest of the Spurs that aren’t the shots they initially seek.
Mostly that means keeping Parker out of the lane and having Duncan take jumpers from the top of the key while Leonard, Green, and Neal take contested jumpers from above the break of the three point line. The Spurs want to work the corners for three point shots for their wings and get Duncan working foul line down where he can use his still very effective post game to get good looks. While it’s impossible to keep these players from taking the shots they want for an entire game, forcing them to skew towards less desirable ones should be the top priority.
Offensively, the Lakers must work the offense through their big men as often as possible. Whether that’s through Pau at the elbows and the left block or Dwight through straight post ups, they need their touches in order to try and dictate the flow of the game. By going through the post, the Lakers can slow the tempo and, hopefully, get shots at the basket or draw fouls on Duncan and Splitter. Beyond those two the Spurs don’t have much worthwhile size to battle the Lakers’ bigs so getting either one out of the game would be a great way to accentuate one of the only advantages the Lakers have. (The flip-side, of course, is that Pau and Dwight both stay out of foul trouble in their own right. Dwight has been foul prone lately and that simply can’t happen today.)
The other key offensively is that the Lakers wings move the ball and hit what open shots they do get. The Spurs have improved a great deal offensively and part of that improvement has been their ability to funnel the action to their big men and not surrender open jumpers in the process. However, if the Lakers can do a good job of working the ball inside-out, attacking closeouts, and then making the extra pass off dribble penetration, they should get some good looks. Those shots — whether by Meeks, Blake, Ron, Clark, or Duhon — must be made at a consistent enough rate to keep the defense honest.
This game is sure to be emotional. The Lakers are without Kobe but are also still fighting for their playoff lives. A win tonight gets them one step closer to their goal of a post-season berth. And while that cloud of Kobe’s injury will hang over the team, they can hopefully channel that energy into a positive effort that allows them to compete at the highest level. After all, Kobe gave his all — ultimately falling to injury — trying to help this team get over the hump. They need to do everything they can to not just honor that, but to win for themselves.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.