The Lakers enter game two with some key issues to work out. First is how they can score enough points to hang with the Spurs. That will involve shot making from multiple players and a refinement of how they work the ball into the post. Ball and player movement before an entry pass are key. As will be offering the type of release valves flashing to the middle of the floor to help beat a fronting defense. We’ll see what the Lakers have in store in this regard, but at least they seem to understand where some of their issues lie.
On the injury front, there is some good news to report. Jordan Hill has been cleared to play only 3 months after having hip surgery that was supposed to end his season. How (or if) Hill is integrated into the lineup remains to be seen, but it’s always good to have serviceable depth available to play, even if it’s at a position where many of the minutes are already accounted for. The other good news is that Steve Nash didn’t suffer any setbacks after game one and is slated to start tonight. Nash is still not 100%, but if he can find some of the rhythm he clearly lacked in game one it will be a boost to the Lakers’ offense. Jodie Meeks will also play tonight, though he too is not 100% as of yet. The swelling in his ankle has gone down, however, and that’s good enough for him to give it a go.
For the rest of our preview, we offer a 3 on 3 with myself, Ryan Cole, Rey Moralde and J.M. Poulard. (Yes, I know that’s 4 people. Work with me here.) Let’s get to it…
J.M. Poulard: Less. Mike D’Antoni got next to nothing from his second unit in Game 1 and barely trusted them to give the Lakers any form of contribution. The Spurs on the other hand got terrific play out of Manu Ginobili and Matt Bonner. The scariest proposition in all this is that Tony Parker struggled a bit and the same holds true for Gary Neal. Playing at home, one has to think they bounce back with good performances.
Rey Moralde: More. The Lakers just seem to continue to go cold from the midrange and the outside. At some point, those shots are going to go in. Pau Gasol usually makes those midrangers. And Dwight will get more touches in the post. I think they’re in for a big evening.
Ryan Cole: Less. The Spurs are seemingly healthier than what we all thought, and I don’t think that they are going to shoot as bad a percentage in this game as they did in the previous one. I’d also expect some adjustments from Coach Popovich, which is a definitely something the Lakers should be concerned about in my opinion.
Darius Soriano: Neither, really. Game one went about as expected with both teams playing well in some areas, not so well in others, and the difference being one of the X-factors stepping up for the Spurs. I still think the Lakers have a shot in this series should they continue to play the type of defense they have over the last few weeks while also finding some efficient scoring from someone not named Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol. These will still be challenges and there will surely be others as the series evolves, but I don’t think the gap between these teams has widened after how both teams played in the first game.
2. Which player has to step up the most to help the Lakers get a win tonight?
J.M.: Metta World Peace. With the bench giving the Lakers next to nothing in Game 1, the onus is on MWP to help out Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol by spacing the floor with his shooting. Even if his shots aren’t falling, he must aggressive and look to put the ball on the floor for drives. A few post ups wouldn’t hurt either.
Darius: Steve Nash. The Spurs’ treated Nash as if he was just another guy in game 1, sagging off him in the P&R and in standard post up sets. And while Nash isn’t fully healthy, he has to do more to exploit the Spurs’ approach against him specifically (and the Lakers’ perimeter attack in general). Of all the Lakers’ wing players, Nash is the most skilled and the best shooter. If anyone is going to be able to make them pay for laying off the wings, it will be Nash and his ability to hit shots and/or get into the teeth of the defense and be a threat as a scorer or passer. Whether he has it in him physically to be that guy is questionable, but he’s the player who it needs to come from.
3. Who wins tonight and why?
J.M.: The Spurs can survive for stretches without optimal production from their big guns. The Lakers cannot. Howard and Gasol were effective in the first game but coughed up the ball 10 times. If the Lakers are going to win, they need huge games from their Hall of Fame big man tandem and good performances from everybody else. The odds of this happening on the road are not impossible but they are quite slim.
Darius: I’ve been higher on the Lakers’ prospects than most analysts out there, so I think the Lakers steal this game. While I expect the Spurs to play better than they did in game one, I expect the same out of the Lakers. I think they take better care of the ball, hit a few more jumpers, and find a few cracks in the defense to get Dwight and Pau a few more cleaner looks than they got in game 1. Add it all up and I think this game is close at the end with the Lakers stealing it to tie the series heading back to Los Angeles.