The Lakers are in the third game of a weird scheduling four-game sequence in which the Lakers play home and home series against the Thunder and the Spurs. The Lakers (remarkably) went .500 in the first half of the four games with a completely unexpected win over the Thunder in last Sunday, and will seek to do the same (or better) as they kick off a home and home against the Spurs tonight. Not only are the Lakers in the midst of a four-game stretch against the two teams a top the Western Conference, but they’re playing the second of a back-to-back in San Antonio. Most cities get up for the Lakers when they come to town, but San Antonio is usually one of the more hostile environments that the Lakers visit in any given season.
For tonight’s contest, the Lakers are going to need to match the defensive energy they had in their first game against the Thunder, someone is going to have to explode on the offensive end a la Jodie Meeks, and the Spurs might have to treat tonight’s game like an exhibition contest. You can’t really put a zero percent chance on the Lakers winning tonight’s game, but considering circumstance and the talent gap, a lot is going to have to go their way.
There really isn’t much you can say about this year’s rendition of the Spurs that you couldn’t have said about the team in the past 3-4 years outside of the every present continued growth of swingman Kawhi Leonard and his importance to the Spurs. Leonard is a difference maker on both ends of the floor, and when healthy, makes a good Spurs team dangerous. Leonard has dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss 15 games this season, but the Spurs have not lost since his return. From Matthew Tynan over at 48 Minutes of Hell:
The Spurs have been 16.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Leonard has been on the floor over the last six games as opposed to just six points better when he’s been on the bench, and the defense is boasting a 95.3 defensive-efficiency rating when he plays. Furthermore, his impact on the defense-to-offense transition game has been a godsend for the slow-legged Spurs.
The numbers show the impact Leonard has had on the Spurs, and the impact has turned into wins. However, nothing is guaranteed, and the Lakers can find a way to leave San Antonio with a win tonight, and it’s going to have to start with the guys on the perimeter.
On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to take great care of the ball. The Spurs aren’t one of the fastest teams in the league, but they will make you pay for your mistakes. The possessions that don’t end in turnovers have to end with quality shots. Sharp ball movement and movement off the ball have led to the Lakers best possessions, but over dribbling from the guards have cut down on the number of times that the Lakers have been able to effectively execute sets this season. Kendall Marshall will have to be confident in his jump shot, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are going to have to be smart about when to attack the basket and when to keep the ball moving and Pau Gasol is going to have to get touches in the paint. Playing through the post, especially if Pau can get any kind of early rhythm, will open up the perimeter for shooters like Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly.
On the other end, keeping Tony Parker out of the lane is, and will always be, the top priority against the Spurs. This is a team that executes as well as anyone in the league, so staying home on assignments and helping the helper will be crucial. Parker can kill the Lakers by living in the paint, but Manu Ginobili can do so as well. Tim Duncan is going to be Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw can hurt the Lakers from multiple spots on the floor with his play making ability while Leonard can stretch the floor or attack the rim with his athleticism.
The Lakers should run when they have their opportunities, but shouldn’t make tonight a track race as the Spurs with more possessions will only have more opportunities to impose their will over the Lakers. The Lakers can be successful in stretches, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep the Spurs off balanced enough for 48 minutes to leave Texas with a win.
Where You Can Watch: 5:30 start time on NBATV or TWC SportsNet. You can also listen on ESPN Radio 710.