Lakers/Spurs: Gut Check Reveals Guts

Emile Avanessian —  April 15, 2013

Sunday night marked the arrival of a new, long-term houseguest in Lakerland – the ghost of roster future.

In the absence of Kobe Bryant – a scenario initially not expected to come to fruition for handful of years – all eyes will be on Dwight Howard to recapture his MVP form of years past and anchor the team at the both ends of the floor. In short, after having the luxury to allow Howard to acclimate to his new surroundings and battle back from injuries at his own pace, the Lakers now need their franchise center to act the part. Sunday night marked Howard’s first game as the team’s long-term anchor, and Dwight delivered, devastating the Spurs to the tune of 26 points, 17 rebounds (6 offensive) and three blocks (plus a dubious goaltending call on a Tim Duncan hook I the lane), flashing his once-unrivaled speed and power in the post, and truly dominating on the glass. The result from a team perspective was no less encouraging, as the Lakers, in the maiden voyage without their superstar and leader, took a major step in sealing the postseason berth has at times seemed so elusive, with a 91-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

However, Dwight was not alone in elevating his game in Kobe’s absence. Steve Blake turned in crowning performance as a Laker, connecting on four of eight 3-point attempts en route to 23 points, to which he added five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Providing a much-needed spark off of the bench was Antawn Jamison, who kicked in 15 points, burying three of five 3-pointers himself, and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of burn. Lending additional support were Jodie Meeks, who despite hitting just three of 11 shots, hit a massive pair of 4th quarter 3-pointers, as well as Pau Gasol, who simply could not get a thing to drop. However, despite a putrid 3-for-17 showing from the field, Pau left a positive mark on the game with 16 rebounds (5 offensive) and three blocked shots of his own.

It must be said that the Spurs were far from their best on Sunday night, with just two (Tim Duncan and Matt Bonner) of 10 players that took the floor making at least half of their shots. Duncan, though outquicked by Dwight in the early going and unable to keep him off of the glass, played a fantastic game, scoring 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting (including a pair of thunderous throwdowns in the second half), grabbing 10 rebounds, handing out four assists and swatting three shots. Of historical significance, with his final bucket of the night, the greatest power forward the league has ever seen ran his career tally to 23,759, good for 22nd on the NBA’s all-time list, two points ahead of the previous holder of that distinction, Charles Barkley. Unfortunately for Duncan, who, like pre-injury Kobe, is more than a decade and half in and still playing some of the best ball of his career (24.4 PER, 21.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and career-best defensive rebound and block rates), he received little support from his normally reliable running mates.

Chief among the struggling Spurs were Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 2-for-15 from the floor (1-for-10 for Parker, 1-for-5 for Leonard) and combined for just 12 points, though it worth noting that the duo combined for 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Also, despite managing a double-double of his own (11 and 10), Tiago Splitter missed eight of the 13 shots he attempted, more than a couple of which were seemingly easy layups. Danny Green managed an identical 5-for-13 from the field, hitting just two of seven 3-point attempts, while Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair managed just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Now, it’s clearly unreasonable to expect two of the Spurs’ top three starters to shoot worse than 15% from the field while one of their starting bigs blows numerous chances at the rim, but a fair amount of credit is owed to the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, who challenged the Spurs’ on their 3-point attempts, forced an inordinate number of long 2-point jump shots and, in perhaps the greatest testament to their performance, held the Spurs to a single unsuccessful corner 3-point attempt.

That the sustainability of some of the offensive efforts can be called into question, and the Spurs did little to help themselves in a game that was certainly winnable are true, but tonight, wholly irrelevant. With the playoffs in the balance, in the absence of their emotional talisman and offensive catalyst, the Lakers put forth excellent effort at both ends, and ultimately had enough to gut out a massive victory against an elite Spurs team playing for its own playoff positioning, setting the stage for a win-and-you’re-in showdown with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Staples.


Emile Avanessian


28 responses to Lakers/Spurs: Gut Check Reveals Guts

  1. Thanks for the write up but many may disagree on Duncan being the greatest PF the league has ever seen. I have seen a better player in Malone and a much exciting player in James Worthy

  2. I think it is more based on opinion, I will admit I love Tim Duncan and his style, I would put him as one of the greatest Power Foward, but the greatest, I do not know, I think he is up there for me, but it depends on what position people want to put him as, meaning a Center or Power Foward…..if he is put as a Center, I have a few people before him, but as a Power Foward, I like him the best, then it is between Malone or Garnett for me, and I might put Gasol up there for 4th or 5th, not because of his stats but because of his playing style……by the way great win tonight team

  3. Interesting takes on Tim. The fact that he is a hybrid big who plays center or forward depending on matchups and other factors makes him hard to pin down for me. I won’t argue that he is a truly great player, however.

    Forgotten name in the power forward debate is Bob Pettit. Saw him when I was very young. He once played with a broken arm…cast and all! Talk about tough!

  4. Quite ugly game,many lucky breaks but a good win nonetheless.Timmy D is special as is S Curry.Blake Mamba was awesome.
    Go Lakers surprise Durantula & Co.

  5. If Houston lose against Phoenix and we win against them wednesday…

    Damn. Feels good.

  6. Good point by Chearn on the last thread re: Dwight. Last night, D12 came out with a seriousness that I have not seen this season. And while Mike Trudell might not have appreciated Howard’s two word answers to virtually every postgame question (“just dominate”), I did.

  7. Really enjoyed the grit.

    Now! – – the season is not yet over; nose to the grindstone and all that.

    Go Lakers!

  8. why couldnt MDA play morris 5-10 minutes a game again? nice win

  9. The Lakers are not much worse without Kobe. In fact I foresee a Ewing Theory in effect here, where you take the star player, and they suddenly gel and start winning more. Also, players step into the void or vacuum that is created by Kobe, and become energized.

    It’s like Phil used to say. When everyone feels involved and of use, their production increases.

    The roster needs alot of help at the 1 and 2 guard, but I believe if you added some defensive -minded, playmakers and scorers, this team could eclipse the Kobe team.

  10. I’m looking at the standings so far. Am I correct to say that the Lakers could conceivably get the sixth seed (which is the best scenario for LAL) IF Golden State loses its last two games (against the Spurs and the Blazers) AND Houston loses as well its last two (against LAL and the Suns), WHILE LAL wins against Houston? LAL won the series against the Warriors after all, and would be tied with Houston, 2-2 if they win on Wednesday. So the 8th seed is not the best scenario, playoffs wize (and however far off for all of that to happen)?

  11. KR Guda, imagine if that happens, and the Jazz also win out. Then the Lakers are looking at the scenario of win, reach the 6th seed / lose, miss the playoffs completely.

  12. James: There is no Ewing theory here. Lakers aren’t making a run without Kobe. They did the same thing against Indiana then layed an egg at Phoenix earlier. Lakers aren’t a championship contender without Kobe.

    Dwight played well in Orlando as the main guy but won nothing. One good game but he had plenty in Orlando too. What’s worry some is the fact he couldn’t get serious playing with Kobe. Post game interview he had a serious face and he’s talking about leading this team to do something special. If Dwight can’t find it in himself to man up when another man is on his team playing then Lakers will never win a ring with him. It almost seemed like he had a huge sigh of relief last night after Kobe was injured. He was asked How long did it take to learn to play with Kobe? He replied “80 games”. I guess it took an injured Kobe for him to learn to play with him and assert himself on the court. It’s almost like Dwight was scared to be great playing alongside Kobe. I wish he’d been this aggressive playing at the beginning of April.

    Lakers played a good game last night Spurs played below their standards. There injured, releasing players and also have a lot of parts moving. Lakers may sneak into the playoffs but it’ll be a 1st round exit.

  13. If the Jazz wins, and the Lakers win, the Jazz will miss the playoffs, simply because LAL would have the better record. The only way that the Lakers lose the 8th seed is if they lose to Houston and the Jazz wins both their remaining games.

  14. It would possibly be fun to watch this team WITH Nash. Although the problem is that, since Kobe played so many minutes, it has never made sense to spend too much on a backup SG, so the Lakers really have a third stringer in Meeks starting.

    Defense looked better without Kobe, as the Lakers stayed home more on shooters and played a better team concept defense. As great as Kobe, his defensive style these days is solid one on one and horrendous off ball.

    Morris should have more minutes all year.

  15. “Concerned over the consequences Bryant could face by playing heavy minutes, Kupchak spoke with the Lakers’ star about it.
    “His message to me was, `Mitch, I hear what you’re saying, but we got to get into the playoffs,”‘ Kupchak recalled. “`I’m playing and there’s nothing you can do about it.”‘
    Not anymore
    Bryant underwent surgery Saturday to treat a left Achilles tendon injury the Lakers estimate will keep him out between six to nine months. Despite Bryant playing an average of 45.6 minutes per game in the last seven contests, Kupchak doesn’t hold Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni responsible for the injury.
    “I don’t think Mike is at blame here,” Kupchak said. “Even if you take Kobe out of a game, there’s a lot of times where he’ll just get up and put himself back in.”

    This is just rediculous to me. I understand he is Kobe Bryant, a man with mad warrior-like instincts. But as a coach, and ESPECIALLY as a general manager, part of your job is to control your players and manage their minutes. These people get paid millions of dollars to do this. Greg Pop would not allow one of his players to dictate him in how much they play. If Kobe refused to listen, Pop would just bench him. Mike D and the general management are fully to blame for this injury. Kobe did his job, to try to play every minute he could, only caring about winning and not for his body. That is what a warrior competitor like Kobe is supposed to do. Mike’s Job is to grow a pair and be responsible for his star player.

  16. Joe M,

    But the point is not just that they should have controlled him, because he would still have wanted to play a lot of minutes or else you would then be looking at rebellion. So would he have been safe with only, say, 41 minutes a game? He for sure would have been on the floor at the moment he was injured, as it was “crunch time”.

    Overall, its complex. I agree with you to a point and don’t completely absolve Dantoni or Mitch, and felt in particular in the game he was injured he was showing real signs of breakdown. But one must also recognize that this injury is not neccesarily overuse related and that along with the warrior you need to swallow the whole package, which includes the bull like mentality. No one except possibly Phil could control him and for various reasons, PJax is not the coach. And from my recollection there were issues of this nature with Pjax as well. Saying Popovich would have done X, is irrelevant to my mind as the dynamic on that team is just much different.

  17. Great post, Joe M. You are 100 percent spot on. The likelihood of injury increases with a greater workload. It is on the head coach and management to protect players from their competitive instincts that will often supersede good judgement. D’Antoni’s inability to find useful minutes from the reserves should result in his termination. Management needs to manage the coach if the circumstances require it. Shame on all them.

  18. There is no Ewing potential because part of the theory is that the guy who goes down, like Ewing, didn’t win championships while being the main guy and then with his going down the team gels and does win big. In this case, Kobe has done a little bit of winning.

    Second, I was impressed with the effort I saw from the team against GS. The grit with which they played was everything I could ask for. It was in full effect with Kobe in the game, seemed to feed off of the injuries he sustained, and was carried over into the last few minutes when he was done for the season, and again last night. I looked to me like the team had found their four-wheel drive. I loved it. As for Dwight…

    People talked about Nowitzki, Pau, LeBron being unable to win at the highest level. People talked about Kobe being unable to win without Shaq. People just don’t think. Nowitzki had won for Germany in meaningful games against excellent competition. Pau had done the same with Spain and, LeBron with the US Team. Dwight carried an OK team to the championship round in the best league on the planet. You can argue over who his best teammate was, Hedo or Nelson. Get your head around that. Dwight carried Jameer Nelson to the NBA Finals (sort of because it turned out he was carrying Alston too). When Dwight is healthy he is a MONSTER!!! Last season we saw LeBron grow as a player because he learned to focus his talents. If Dwight can carry this attitude he has developed into the playoffs, he will carry this team pretty far. I can’t say that I think it likely they win a series against either of the top-two seeds in the West, but stranger things have happened. After that, who knows? All I do know is that Dwight is a rare talent and has been mentored by a man whose focus would shame a lazer. This team is going to go as far as their collective ability to control the ball on O, and limit damage from the perimeter will take them. Neither of these abilities come easy for this team. We will see. I just think Dwight is about to make a whole lot of people forget there is a record of their confident prognostications on this site.

  19. Re last thread and draft picks

    It’s only recently that we have not relied on draft picks for success.

    If you look at magics laker squads,which was before my time, wasnt the whole team laker draft picks – didn’t we pick #1 2 years in a row getting magic and worthy while drafting guys like Scott and divac

    As I was trying to explain in an earlier post – due to the new CBA we will no be able to steal top level talent from other teams making it necessary for us to grow through the draft if we want to get the new KD or Lebron whenever he comes into the league

    We were very lucky to have found a gem in Kobe- who we essentially drafted via trade and landed shaq in what I believe was an uncapped year which allowed us to offer him a ton of cash – a straight out signing of a top 3 player like shaq will not happen in free agency again

  20. I am pretty disappointed in D’antoni. Darius Morris should have been playing 10-17 minutes a game at PG/SG position this whole year. I do not care what anyone says, Kobe being injured and playing too many minutes has to have a correlation.

  21. To both P. Ami and Harvey M. , excellent posts fellas, thanks

  22. Emile: Put me down for McHale as best ever PF. 2x at over 60% on the season. Then he managed to develop a decent outside shot (which allowed Bird to spend somewhat lesser time outside and some more time down low).

    By the way, I read your one piece on Walter Davis what seems like eons ago. Won’t endear me to the crowd here, but he was my favorite player back in the day. He had the sweetest mid-range jumper that I’ve ever seen. Tragically, Walter and the Dodgers’ Steve Howe were poster boys for the destruction that the whole 80s cocaine fad wrought on the world of professional sports. A damn shame.

  23. The Lakers did not built Showtime thru the Draft, they made transaccions for draft picks. The draft pick for Magic was in compensation for some transaccion that i dont remember right now not because they were the worst team in the league but because they were daring, samething with Worthy, they got the 1st draft pick being the defending champions thanks to timely oportunity abd being srewd , Showtime was 50% luck and 50% great decision making.Kobe Bryant? Another great move trading for that pick so the Lakers didnt actually earned those picks you know how those picks are earn? BY LOSING.The Lakers are a contender most of the time even with this year finishing 8th we wont get any new Magic or Worthy. Therefore the Lakers dont built the the draft. Thats the price of being suscessful if somebody wants to root for a team built thru the draft there is OKC which was just dumb luck the way they were able to built that team for every OKC draft sucess story there are 20 stories of failure of building thru the draft. The Lakers being the Lakers are going to continue atracting superstar level talent regardless of whatever CBA is in place.

  24. Getting the new Kevin Durant or Lebron its like winning the lottery, of Suck. No Thank You.

  25. “No one except possibly Phil could control him” True enough

    Also, Derek Fisher’s presence might have been useful as well. However we had to get rid of him to make room for Darius Morris.

    And in both cases I have commented on this “Kobe Control” before, so it does not just apply to the injury (who knows if anything could have prevented that). But the “Kobe Control” would apply to his relationship with Dwight, his minutes, his ability to play with Nash – many things.

    And yes hindsight is 20/20, which is why I always make my sentiments known at the time of such decisions.

  26. If LAL can sneak into the 7th seed (do they own the tiebreaker if they win against Houston Wednesday?), I’m pretty intrigued with what they can do against San Antonio.

  27. So it have come down to this. WIN OR GO HOME. The anticipation for this game is driving me crazy.

  28. Kevin, I agree about the Lakers not making a run. I just think that this is the beginning of a period of growth where they could start to understand how to lay the foundation without Kobe. I also believe that they had a ceiling with Kobe.

    If they are going to challenge Lebron James, who is entering a dimension that the league has possibly never seen, then they better start building from the ground up.

    I don’t think anyone, with the exception of a Chicago Bulls team with a healthy D Rose and Boozer replacement, will be able to challenge the Heat over the next couple seasons. They are getting better and better. Scary. They made the Thunder look hapless this season.