The week kicks off on Tuesday against the Spurs in Los Angeles, a team that is going to want revenge for the last meeting these two teams had. These teams will play again Friday night for the final time in the regular season in San Antonio. The Spurs might have been too confident playing a Kobe-less Lakers team, which resulted in an embarrassing loss. The Lakers played a near perfect game in the first meeting, but can they pull it off again? Do not expect Tony Parker to score just four points this time and/or Manu Ginobili scoring just nine. Ramon Sessions must continue to play aggressive defense against Parker by forcing him into difficult shots, while on the offensive end make him play defense by penetrating and knocking down open shots.
The other key for the Lakers, and the biggest, is that they continue taking advantage of the huge mismatch they have in their frontcourt. Bynum and Gasol are too tall and strong for any player on the Spurs to defend. If they utilize their presence down low while playing solid defense, they will be victorious against the Spurs.
In between the two San Antonio match-ups, the Lakers head to Golden State. The Lakers must not lose focus against the Warriors, as this is the worst time to play a team that is not going to make the playoffs. The Warriors will have nothing at all to lose and, therefore, they will try things they would not normally do in a game that has no importance for them. If the Lakers stick to what they do best, feeding the post and slowing down the tempo of the game against a team that likes to get out on the fast break, they will win.
The Lakers end the week Sunday returning home after two back-to-back road games for their final game of the regular season at the Staples Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This could be a very important game for both teams. The Thunder may need to win to keep their best record in the Western Conference, and the Lakers may need it to stay ahead of the Clippers assuring them the third seed in the West.
This game between the Lakers and Thunder will be a great test for Los Angeles heading into the playoffs. For the Lakers to be successful against the Thunder, they are going to have to keep the guards of the Thunder, Russell Westbrook in particular, out of the key, and not switch the pick-and-rolls. The Lakers get into trouble when they allow Westbrook to attack their defense both from the perimeter and around the basket. If they do not stop his penetration, they must recover to the shooters on the outside quickly and under control.
The other factor the Lakers struggle with against the Thunder is their pick-and-roll defense. The Thunder like to run pick-and-rolls when Westbrook and Kevin Durant have the ball with their two big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. When they do this against the Lakers, Gasol and Bynum tend to switch the pick, leaving them to defend guards one-on-one around the perimeter. This match-up absolutely destroys their defensive strategy. Instead of switching the pick, the Lakers’ big men need to contain the player with the ball until the primary defender can recover eliminating any miss-match.
The Lakers have a tough but good schedule remaining heading into the playoffs. With two games against the Spurs and one versus the Thunder, the Lakers will be able to get acclimated to playoff atmosphere. They must stay focused and continue to grow as a team as the season comes to an end.