Records: Lakers 3-4 (11th in the West), Spurs 6-1 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (6th in the NBA), Spurs 105.7 (8th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (17th in the NBA), Spurs 101.1 (13th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Spurs: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash & Steve Blake (both out); Spurs: Dejuan Blair (questionable), Manu Ginobili (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are coming off their most hectic 48 hours in recent memory. In the span of two days they fired a head coach, courted a former legend, hired a nemesis to stalk their sidelines instead, and played a game in between. All in all, things will start to settle down soon but right now there’s a combination of let down (from those that wanted Phil Jackson), excitement (for those that love the prospect of D’Antoni), and relief that a decision has finally been mad (from everyone following this circus).
Where the team goes from here is pretty straight forward — or at least as much as it can be considering the circumstances. Bernie Bickerstaff will continue to serve as head coach through tonight’s game and possibly on Friday as well. D’Antoni will be formerly introduced at some point in the next few days and is targeting Sunday for his debut (though Friday against the Suns is still possible). In any event, the team hopes to continue its strong play from the past few games and get back up to .500 with a win tonight. Though, of course, that won’t be easy considering the team they’re facing.
The Spurs Coming in: What can be said about the machine that is the Spurs? Calling for them to fall off continues to be a sucker’s bet as they keep showing they’re nowhere near finished being a top team. Their 6-1 start to the season hasn’t garnered a lot of national attention — not with the Lakers’ drama taking over for the Thunder’s trade of James Harden as the league’s juiciest subplot — but here they are again, all Borg-like in their efficiency of taking out foes.
If there’s a real surprise to this team, it’s not that they’re playing well but who is carrying them. Tony Parker hasn’t quite looked himself yet this year and Manu Ginobili has been gradually returning to form after sitting out the start of the season with back spasms. That’s left the seemingly ageless Tim Duncan to propel this team forward and he’s been doing a fine job of it with a throwback season of averages that resemble his prime years: 19 points and 10 rebounds on 53% shooting.
Beyond Duncan, the Spurs once again show great balance with six additional players averaging at least 8 points a game and 12 players (including Duncan) averaging at least ten minutes a night. This team will come at you in waves and beat you down with discipline and execution. Needless to say, they again look like a contender to have one of the league’s top records by the time we hit April.
Keys to game: The Spurs bring relative health (there’s a chance Ginobili sits this game out, but that’s not yet confirmed) and continuity to this game while the Lakers bring little of both. If there’s a difference in this contest, these two factors may very well be it.
With Nash and Blake out, Tony Parker will match up with the Lakers 3rd and 4th string point guards and will look to get back on track against Morris and Duhon. If it’s any consolation to the Lakers, Parker hasn’t looked his best yet this year and Morris has been surprisingly active on defense but this is still a mismatch. The Lakers’ defensive schemes will be tested in trying to contain the speedy Frenchmen both in isolation and when he turns the corner in the pick and roll. The best bet is to make Parker a jumpshooter, but as we’ve seen over the years he’s more than capable of hitting his mid-range shot with consistency. So, in some respects, the Lakers just have hope he’s missing while playing him as well as they can.
Where the Lakers still have an advantage is in the paint. Yes, Duncan has been fantastic but Howard and Gasol are no slouches. Both will get ample opportunity to attack the paint against both Duncan and Diaw at the outset and a major key tonight may well be if the Spurs’ frontline can defend without fouling well enough to slow down the Lakers’ bigs. If they can’t, the buckets will come easily or they’ll be forced to go to their reserves to off-set some of the defensive load. Splitter can be a guy who has increased value tonight and there’s a chance he sees time next to Duncan against the Lakers’ big lineups just to help defend the paint and clean the glass.
The other key will be outside shooting. The Lakers rank 19th in three point FG% (33.1%) while the Spurs rank 12th (35.7%). If either team gets hot, it can turn into the difference between a close game and one where starters are resting down the stretch. The Spurs thrive off their drive and kick game so the Lakers front line help and secondary rotations must be on point. If they let the Spurs find a rhythm, the shots will be bombed and run will occur. Meanwhile, the Lakers need to hit shots to create the spacing needed for their bigs to thrive. Ron, Meeks, Jamison, and even Morris will all need to chip in and keep the D honest.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on TWC Sports Net. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710 AM.