Playoff Preview Part III: Who are some of the X-Factors?

Darius Soriano —  April 20, 2013

We’ve looked at the regular season series and have also explored some of the key themes to look for on offense and defense. However, while history, talent, and execution all play a vital role in who wins a playoff series they are also decided by other variables. Sometimes, it’s the non-star player who can make his mark (think Trevor Ariza in the Lakers run to the 2009 championship) or a strategy shift (like Rick Carlisle inserting J.J. Barrea into the starting lineup in the 2011 Finals) or some other key match up that turns the tide.

With that in mind, here are a few X-factors that may come into play and make the ultimate difference in this series…

Mike D’Antoni
Coming in, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who the superior coach is. Greg Popovich has tasted championship glory four times and always seems to have his team well prepared and ready to compete at the highest level. There’s literally no bad words to say about the man and I won’t attempt to try and discredit him in any way. If he wins the coaching battle, it won’t be a surprise. In fact, it’s expected.

That said, Mike D’Antoni, even with all the hits he’s taken this year, is no slouch with the whiteboard and in diagramming a workable plan. D’Antoni is also no stranger to facing the Spurs in the post-season, with epic battles in his past that shaped the narrative of his career. D’Antoni will need to call on some of that experience against his old foe on the opposing sideline to try and create some advantages for his team over the course of the series.

Maybe that means deploying a seldom used lineup or going deeper into his bench. Their are already whispers that Steve Blake will join Steve Nash in the starting lineup (should Nash be available). The Blake/Nash backcourt duo hasn’t been the best defensive pairing this season but if Blake can hold his own against Tony Parker (a big if), Nash can slide over to defend Danny Green (who’s mostly just a spot up player) and it not be a huge risk. That approach may not end up working out (if it’s even explored at all), but it’s these types of moves that can make a difference and D’Antoni will need to come up with more of them to guide his team to victory in this series.

Antawn Jamison
Jamison has been the Lakers most consistent bench player all season. So, it wouldn’t necessarily surprise if he had a solid series whether the Lakers are able to upset the Spurs or not. That said, Jamison offers a unique versatility offensively that can be a major weapon against this version of the Spurs. Remember, Boris Diaw is unlikely to play in this series. That leaves the Spurs — who also waived Stephen Jackson — surprisingly thin in the front court behind Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, especially in regards to players who actually match up with Jamison well.

When Jamison comes in at PF, he’ll likely either be matched up with Matt Bonner or DeJuan Blair. Both aren’t used to defending on the perimeter or a player who offers the inside-outside game of Jamison. Jamison can be especially effective as a pick and roll/pick and pop player if defended by either of these players and if he can effectively knock down his jumper it only makes him more dangerous when slashing or attacking off the dribble against a closing out defender. And, if the Spurs decide to defend Jamison with a smaller player, he can try to work the offensive glass or get into the post on weak side duck-ins. Obviously depending too much on Jamison to be a difference maker can be problematic. And if he’s asked to carry the team in any given game the Lakers are in trouble. But as a change of pace player who comes in for Pau, he may be able to exploit the Spurs’ reserve big men.

Manu Ginobili
It’s funny to describe a mainstay of the Spurs’ success and a key performer who has real name recognition as an X-factor, but it’s true. Ginobili hasn’t had the best season — 11.4 points per game in a little over 23 minutes a night — and is coming off a hamstring injury that kept him out of the lineup for 9 of the Spurs final 10 games (he played 12 minutes and scored 2 points in the season finale).

Is Ginobili fully healthy? Is he ready to be the heavy minute contributor that the Spurs will need to make a big run in these playoffs? I’m sure the sense is that the Spurs have enough talent on the wing to beat the Lakers even if Manu isn’t 100%. And that’s likely true. But if Parker struggles (remember he’s had his own injury issues of late as well), the Spurs are suddenly lacking in another off the dribble creator that can hurt the defense in a variety of ways. Typically that player is Ginobili. If he’s ready to go, he can be the hammer off the bench that the Lakers don’t have an answer for. But if he’s limited, the Spurs may struggle to create the dribble penetration that their offense thrives off of.

There are several other keys that I think will be important: will Meeks hit his open shots? If Nash returns, will D’Antoni still play Morris as a defensive substitute against Parker? Can Earl Clark play with enough energy and activity (while hitting some of his shots) to make a difference? The answers to these questions — especially if they go in the Lakers’ favor — could all impact the series positively for the Lakers. Of course, if any of the Spurs’ shooters are hitting shots or Blair is getting after the offensive glass or Splitter has a strong defensive game against Dwight and/or Pau, the Spurs can easily find themselves in the driver’s seat.

That’s the beauty of these things, you never know who will step up, you just know someone will and it will make a big difference.

Darius Soriano

Posts

34 responses to Playoff Preview Part III: Who are some of the X-Factors?

  1. If Manu and Tony are healthy they Lakers have no hope. Tiago Splitter/Tim Duncan/Matt Bonner front court isn’t a pushover. The Spurs have a system that empowers their supporting players, Lakers don’t have a system.

  2. Warren Wee Lim April 20, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Maert, you might as well be a Spur fan. I don’t blame ya.

  3. Play nash off the bench and hope meeks get hot….also playoffs are about adjustments…this is when D.A. needs to earn his pay….

  4. Simply put, I’m really looking forward to how THIS Lakers Team performs on the road in a hostile environment. Especially if they fall behind early by a large amount.

    I was very impressed with our resiliency against the Dubs after Kobe’s injury and even more impressed with our victories against our 1st rd opponents and the Rockets in the face of adversity. However, as we all know, there was 1 common theme within those wins. They all took place in Staples. Where, besides the fact that we’re more comfortable (for obvious reasons), our role players ball better and the team, as a whole, feeds off of the energy of our fans. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to maintain, without the Heart of the team, outside the confines of Staples Center.

  5. One X Factor for me would be Metta. His match up with Leonard is crucial because he’ll probably be the guy helping off his man to show or double Pau and Dwight. If Metta’s not making him pay by making 3s then that hurts the Lakers already basic offense. He also can’t dribble a lot Leonard plays good defense. Metta also has to play great defense. Leonard can get out in the open court and finish as well as take his guy off the dribble. Lakers have to win that matchup because I don’t expect Blake to contain Parker and score 24 points every game. Metta has to play Leonard to a wash or better than him.

    The second would be Neal against Morris? assuming Nash does play not being able to sprint probably puts him on Green. Pop could run Green off screens force Nash to defend. Since the stars may cancel themselves out if the Spurs stars are healthy a role player match up could swing the series. Neal is a guy who can get hot in a hurry. He’s usually coming off screens and involved in movement so a young guy like Morris can and has to stay with him and contest his shots.

    Pau is also an x factor his last two playoffs have been disappointing. He’s played well all around in April aside from a shooting slump in recent games. Which Pau shows up? The one we’ve seen in April, championship game 7 level Pau or the one in the last 2 playoffs. Lakers need The Spainard to win this series. Heart says Lakers in 6.

  6. Kevin_,
    A couple of points regarding Pau…

    One: With Kobe gone there is no argument about Pau playing second fiddle on offense – he has to shoot/pass with speed and accuracy – and he has the chops to do this.

    Two: The injury gave Pau rest from his summer activity, which hasn’t been true in past years. As he ages he has worn down and that has shown up in the playoffs. This year he comes into the playoffs much fresher.

  7. Warren, I am a Laker fan. I’m just being realistic. I don’t trust this team. Look, before Kobe went down, he hit back to back 3s to tie the game with the Warriors. Forget the freethrows he made after the injury, without those 2 plays Lakers r at home. People r suddenly optimistic about Pau, the same guy who in successive playoffs has been subpar? Without Kobe as his teammate Pau has never won a playoff game much less a series. If we fall in a hole on the road how do we come back? Is Howard gonna hit his freethrows? MWP can’t hold Kawhi for a 7 game series especially since he is coming off surgery. Somehow Mr Blake aka never showing up in playoffs is gonna morph into Mr reliable? I’m not sold. They have to show me. 2 games against a cold shooting spurs and an atrocious Houston defense doesn’t prove anything to me. Its the playoffs and without Kobe these cast of characters have not earned my trust to believe in them.

  8. Maert
    This is no time for logic.

    Kevin: I agree Metta is a key. If he slows Leonard and can score without missing 75% of his shots we have a shot.

    Another key is don’t mess with the Blake. Finally the guy has the confidence and not the fear to shoot. Much better defender then a
    healthy Nash, never mind a hobbling or injured Nash.

    Gene: what’s with the get hot? Only two players shot worse the Jody Meeks this year, Duhon and Ebanks. Jody played every game and shot 38% from the field. That is about his past also. He had one hot
    game this year. Why would he get hot against the best coach and a top defense? I suggest a wish for Nash, Blake, Metta or Jamison. Guys who have actually performed in the past. Meeks is our worst shooter stat wise.

  9. Kevin

    You are absolutely right. Metta is a huge X factor. We tend to forget that this guy is a former all star. When he came to the Lakers he deferred his offense to Kobe and became a spot up shooter, a role he really isn’t that suited for. The key here is health. It is miracle he is even playing. If he is close to 100% as the series progresses he will be a major factor on both offense and defense.

    The Lakers are not receiving much love even from some of their their own fans. And that is expected. We all have watched these guys struggle through injuries all year. However say Kobe had been lost at the beginning of the season but everyone else had been healthy and playing at the highest level we have seen them play at, this team still would have made the playoffs and may have been even a higher seed then they are now. There is that much talent here.

    Logic says we should lose but as a fan I am allowed to throw logic out the window. We have seen all of these guys when healthy play well. So it really leaves us with a lot of questions to be answered.

    Can Metta play at the level he was playing at before the injury?

    Can Clark play at the level we have seen him play at at different times?

    Can Nash give us 25 strong minutes a game?

    Can Pau and Howard continue to play the way they have been playing?

    Can Blake continue his strong play?

    Can Meeks regain his shooting stroke and Jamesion continue his solid play?

    Can we find a way to get Morris some minutes on D? If you play him at the 2 and do not let him run the offense I think you can.

    If most of the answers are yes, I could see this team not only winning this series but beating the winner of the Nuggets and the Warriors as well. As far as OKC? Well I am afraid logic wins out in that scenario.

  10. Ken,

    Yes Meeks has been in a shooting slump. But you can not just take his 38% and say he is a bad shooter. You have to take under consideration that most of his shots are from 3. He takes 6.8 shots a game 4.4 are from 3. He currently is shooting 35.7 from 3 which league wide is considered decent. Up to about a month ago he was at around 38% for 3 which is considered good. So yes he had more then one good game. For shooters, confidence is everything. Just look at Sasha, maybe the greatest practice shooter of all time, but his confidence would ebb and flow through out the season. Meeks has a nice stroke. If regains his confidence I could easily see him contributing some key 3 point shots. In fairness he has had more deep in and outs down the stretch then I can remember. If a few of those can stay in, yes he could get hot.

  11. Ok Michael. It’s just bugs me how many were so wide open. As a former college player I actually don’t like his shot. His upper body appears to far out in front and his release seems eye level instead of higher. I have taught shooting and would not advice his methods.

    Not even going to bring up his fast break drives to the bucket. Let’s all hope he improves and they shock the experts.

  12. Carmelo has arrived.

  13. I agree with Michael about Meeks he has to have the confidence to knock down shots like he does in practice. He and Metta are my X-Factors they will both get plenty of open shots in this series. I pretty much know what i’m gonna get from everyone else but these two are the most inconsistent. Still, we’re gonna need a few good games from both of them.

  14. Ken–You have to admit, though, that Meeks’ “results” on defense are starting to catch up with his “effort.” He did a stellar job down the stretch against Harden the other night. Meeks won’t likely ever be an “elite” defender—but he gives good effort and does a pretty good job despite his size limitations.

  15. True Shooting Percentages of various Lakers:

    Meeks .540
    Nash .605
    Jamison .561
    Pau .512
    Metta .517
    Blake .573
    Kobe .570
    Howard .573

    .540 is not particularly good for a 3PT specialist, (Kyle Korver is at .637, for example) but as noted, Meeks is not as useless as Ken makes him out to be.

    As to Blake, he deserves a lot of credit for the way he played in the last two games, but there is little in his career performance record that would indicate that he can keep it up. That said, his shooting numbers under MDA have been much better than they were under Phil or Brown.

    TS%, Blake:

    2011 .500
    2012 .493
    2013 .573

  16. Funny to read Lakers fans as Debby Downers. I will return the favor as a Spurs fan.

    I wanted the Spurs to play the Lakers (with Kobe) in the first round. The Lakers are the only team with a chance of inspiring the Spurs back to championship level performance. To me, there is no difference between losing in the first round or losing in the finals. I think that is the way that Pop thinks. Unlike MD, Pop is not going to play his starters 40 minutes because killing your players just to make the next round is not going to get you a ring. This gives the Lakers a good chance for an “upset” if MD is willing to push everyone to exhaustion.

    The Spurs have been in a funk the past three weeks and their play on the offensive end has been spotty. Two stats will tell the whole story for the Spurs. As least 25 assists and less than 12 turnovers will make a Spurs victory highly probable.

    The games will all be close unless one team gets hot from 3. Should be interesting.

  17. Cheap shots at Kobe from Tom Haberstroh at ESPN:

    Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Kobe Bryant’s Twitter feed. Sure, I’m fascinated to see whether Dwight Howard can withstand the pressure of leading the Lakers over the mighty San Antonio Spurs. But I’m more curious to see how Bryant would react to the Lakers succeeding without him. The in-game commentary from Bryant’s couch could be epic, but there are much larger implications at play if the Lakers play better without him.

  18. Pathetic stuff from Haberstroh; par for the course. Henry Abbot’s pettiness has suffused ESPN.

  19. Doc,

    We are obviously Lakers-centric in these parts, but the Spurs got a good draw as well–OKC, MEM and LAC are all in the other bracket.

  20. rr: Westbrook, Kobe and Melo are scorers first and aren’t looked at as team first so they aren’t highly favored by the espn guys. Plus he sees LeBron every night. Meanwhile, a darling like cp3 who’s never made it out the 2nd round and outplayed badly by Parker last year is adored by many. We all have our favorites.

  21. Warren Wee Lim April 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Maert: To criticize the Lakers doesn’t really equate to being a fan of the other. In fact, to criticize our team is to be critical and caring and wanting to get better. If you don’t have hope, we don’t blame you but it really doesn’t help.

    The Lakers have a shot to do something special. In this series, the Lakers are heavy underdogs (I bet on 1:5 for them to win out the series) and are therefore not expected to win. But guess what, us winning would not mean a big surprise to others too. Everyone knows very well that this is a dangerous team with lots of unknowns (works on our favor) and for a methodical team like the Spurs, its just the pill for their poison.

    As mentioned, the Spurs are disciplined, controlled and are playing the right way. You cannot beat them if you’re the same exact team as them, only inferior. The only way to beat them is to be unpredictable, unknown and unquantifiable. We are the Spurs ultimate nightmare of a draw. They would rather face GSW: known quantity, defend the outside; or HOU: no post scoring, all drives and outside shots as well.

    The Lakers have a chance to do special. Doesn’t mean we would, but I have this tingle in between my toes that we would.

  22. We all have our favorites.

    Sure. But we don’t all have national media gigs as analysts. Haberstroh does.

  23. darius: the biggest x-factor to this point has got to be steve nash. and the question remains, how much past can nash bring to the present? my take on nash is that he’s been laying low primarily because he chose to play lackluster fiddle to kobe’s game. nagging injuries aside, when was it exactly that steve nash decided to play for the lakers?

    starting tomorrow, we’ll find out.

    Go Lakers

  24. For those criticizing the Lakers, ask Pop what he thinks. He was clearly trying to avoid the Lakers and the reason is because we have a lot of talent. Sure, talent does not win championships by itself but is a major factor down the stretch.

    Basically, the Lakers might be a mess as a team right now, but a team that has Nash, Pau and Dwight cannot be written off at any time. And Pop knows that.

    So as much as I understand that we are the underdogs, that doesn’t mean we’ll loose this series.

    Not at all.

  25. WWL, I disagree with your post (and admittedly with many professional analysts) who point to the Lakers’ *unpredictability* as some kind of wild-card in our favor. Unlike the NFL, this is a sport in which the coach yells out the play for both the offense and the defense to hear– everyone knows what’s coming… then it’s all about trying to stop it, then adjust to the counters, etc. Miami can say: we’re going to run LBJ/Wade PNRs on the next twenty plays with the first option being that LBJ drives to the rim, the second option a Wade pick and pop and the third option Ray Allen in the corner… and they would still likely win the championship because even if you know what’s coming, how do you stop it? We all pretty much know what Duncan’s going to do, or Durant, but does it matter? The NBA is more chess than poker– with the exception of plays designed in time-outs, everyone pretty much knows what everybody else is trying to run. (And frankly, this is fine with me as those super-intense coaching moments will favor Pop anyway…)

    To be honest, even though I agree this is a far better matchup than OKC or a team like LAC or DEN, I see us as huge underdogs, more even than most of the pundits (unlike them, I put little faith/hope in the Spurs struggles of late), but if we do manage to win some games and make this a series, I would expect it would be the result of more-or-less *predictable* variables– superior three point shooting, somehow controlling Parker and Manu (Parker in particular seems the kind of player who gives us fits this year), Nash playing well, etc., rather than some kind of unimaginable surprise.

    I know my pessimism might sound unenthusiastic (although you wouldn’t say that if you saw the absurd amount of Lakers gear I’ve worn around town all day, including an old-school wristband– I look like some kind of advertisement for Lakers.com), but I’m so proud of what the Lakers did to get into the playoffs that even if they get picked apart by this very, very good SA team, I see a lot to build on next season, regardless of whether or not MDA is the coach and Gasol remains on the roster.

    They’ve played with such passion the last few weeks… I’m not sure if it possibly can be sustained (I agree with those who expect a reversion to the mean from Blake, for example, and Kobe wasn’t the only one playing huge minutes while Duncan, Manu, Parker, and Leonard all rested), but it won’t stop me from annoying my neighbors with my shouting….

    GO LAKERS!!!!!

    P.S. Best joke I found trolling the Spurs websites: Matt Bonner being referred to as ‘Red Mamba.’

  26. Anyone who thinks the “talking heads” will have any real analytical or observation skills – and furthermore will use those same skills – simply doesn’t understand the media. The idea is to gain hits/eyeballs, not to promote truth or understanding, and their actions most often – not always – are aimed in that direction. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are just that – exceptions – and their minor presence supports the rule.

    With that in mind, expecting any type of – even moderately – insightful analysis is like looking for the talking pig.

  27. I gott say, I am perplexed by those espousing that Steve Nash is the difference-maker for the Lakers in these playoffs.

    First off, Nash has been nursing injuries all season. He has looked like a complete shadow of himself when healthy.He looks old and slow. And now he is gonna start getting himself into gameshape starting with game 1 of the playoffs? Have you forgotten what kind of condition this guy is in?

    Steve Blake will be less of a liability than Nash, and more of a difference-maker over the course of the series. Sad, but true. Nash is cooked for this season.

    It reminds me of when Nash was going to save the Lakers earlier in the season. Some folks need a reality check.

  28. Well, Craig, there is some truth in that. But OTOH, from what I have seen, you have zero understanding of the stat-driven writing that now permeates the MSM, and some of it is quite good and enhances our understanding of the game. Haberstroh is part of that crowd, but as Blizzard points out, the culture of TrueHoop dictates taking backhanded shots at Kobe, even when he has suffered a catastrophic injury and can’t play.

    Did Haberstroh write that simply to irritate Lakers fans? Quite possibly. But even if that is the case, Haberstroh is selling himself as an analyst, so I am comfortable calling him out for his biases.

  29. Warren Wee Lim April 21, 2013 at 3:20 am

    I have good reason to believe that the Lakers, whilst underdogs, have the chops to win against the Spurs. Vegas odds (local bookie) gives this a 1:5 ratio and I had to bite on the bet because I believe its good value bet.

    Lil Pau, the unpredictability I refer to is our roster itself. The only known quantities are that Dwight has become magnified on this offense, thus hack-a-howard looming, and the most-likely 1st option on offense is Pau Gasol. However, Steve Nash also plans to play on the opener and that gives our team another look that haven’t been seen too much all season. That plus the unavailability of Kobe, we might see Steve Blake being the starting off guard with his very good play as of late, then we see Nash getting subbed in by Morris to chase off Parker and the 25 screens he passes through every play.

    Overall, a methodical team like the Spurs, want known quantities in order to break down. The more impromptu our plays are the worse it is for them. The moment we grab a significant lead, we just then have to impose ourselves on defense and not look back.

    I expect the Lakers to be fired up to start. The Spurs will come prepared and expect them to come back strong and swing the momentum at the end of the 1st to early 2nd. Their bench is significantly and very obviously better than ours.

    This is then where Howard’s defensive focus comes in. Is he in good shape shooting FTs at this stage? The Spurs will surely try fouling him hard early to determine where he is on his concentration. Is he 5-8 FT at this point or is he 3-8? Is he confident enough that if HAHA (hack a howard approach) sets in 6 mins into the 3rd, either with a 5-pt lead or a 5-pt deficit that he is able to make Pop change his mind about the strategy?

    Alot rests on Dwight this series. Its just the best given we have, and even that is an unknown.

  30. I’m not sure what Haberstroh is talking about, because the team is not playing better without Kobe right now.

  31. rr,
    You are right!

  32. A couple of reasons why I like our chances:

    – Dwight Howard: He is in the best shape he´s been the entire year. He has playoff experience as “The Guy” and he led his team to the finals already (even beating a highly favored Cavs team featuring Lebron). He is the best player in this series (considering offensive and defensive impact).

    – Mike D´Antoni and Steve Nash: Remember all the battles the Suns and the Spurs had a while ago? The Suns always played the Spurs really well and could´ve even won a title if not for some very unfortunate luck and some dirty and questionable play by the spurs. Remember the foul by by Robert Horry on Nash? Or how Amare got suspended for stepping like 2 inches over the line onto the court? It cost them the series. I am sure this is still in their head up to this day. Also, I can´t seem to remember that Popovich outcoached or outclassed D´Antoni in any of those years.

    – Pau Gasol: Just like Dwight, Pau is in the best shape he´s been since the start of the season. For Pau, this series and these playoffs could be career defining. Is he the great player who couldn´t succeed without someone like Kobe? If he carries this team through the playoffs, he goes down as one of the best Pf´s of all time next to dirk. Nobody on this spurs team is capable of guarding him when he is at his best (not even TD, who is a great defender).

  33. lil pau… Kobe gave Bonner the nickname of Red Mamba…