After all the drama this Lakers’ season has provided, the Lakers showed the heart and determination necessary the last month of the season to sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. They face a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs in round one; the Lakers and Spurs have met in the playoffs a total of six times since both Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have been members of each respective franchise, with the Lakers prevailing in four of those series. This series, however, will have a much different feel to it, with Kobe’s absence being the primary reason.
The Spurs won the season series 2-1, but the Lakers did win their most recent matchup one week ago at home in a 91-86 victory. Dwight Howard dominated in that matchup with 26 points and 17 rebounds, and he will have to replicate similar statistics in order for the Lakers to have a chance in this series. Though the Spurs limped to the finish line in losing seven of their last ten games on the season, much of this can be attributed to Coach Gregg Popovich’s insistence on resting his key players. All-star point guard Tony Parker sat out four games in April, and star guard Manu Ginobili missed nine straight before playing the season finale. Parker is sure to be back to his normal self in this series, but Ginobili’s health is still somewhat of a question mark.
Frontcourt: Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time, and he is one of the best players the NBA has seen in the past decade. Since coming into the league in 1997, he has been a two-time league MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP and is a four-time NBA champion. Duncan and Coach Popovich have combined to win 50+ wins each season the past 14 seasons. Duncan amazingly has had one of his better seasons in the last few years in averaging 17.8 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game, as well as his usual elite post defense.
Tiago Splitter has been the team’s starter at center for the season, and he has developed into a solid contributor. He is capable of scoring on the low block and has a good touch on his jump shot out to 15-17 feet. It will be interesting to see whether Popovich starts Splitter or Duncan on Dwight Howard. Either way, Splitter is the weaker of the two defensively, so either Howard or Pau Gasol must dominate their matchup with Splitter in order for the Lakers to have a chance.
Backcourt: Although Duncan has remained excellent throughout his entire career, point guard Tony Parker has evolved into the team’s best player. Before injuries slowed down his season some, Parker was being mentioned in the media as an MVP candidate. He averaged 20.3 points and 7.6 assists on the season. He is sure to be a nightmare matchup for the Lakers as neither Steve Nash (healthy or unhealthy) nor Steve Blake has a shot at slowing him down. He is perhaps the best finisher of any point guard in the NBA at the rim (52 percent from the field on the year) and is also one of the quickest off the dribble. Though his jump shot has improved dramatically, the Lakers still must force him into shots outside the paint in order to contain him.
Manu Ginobili is one of the best international players the NBA has seen, and he along with Parker and Duncan have formed a “big three” for the Spurs to build around as they have amassed three championships along the way. Though he has had injury problems all season in missing 23 games, Ginobili is the wildcard in the series. If he near is full strength, the Spurs have a significant advantage in talent on the Lakers. The Lakers must find a way to keep Ginobili out of the paint as well and force him to his right hand, where he is less effective.
Keys to Victory:
Defend the Three-Point Lin – The Spurs possess a plethora of three-point shooters to surround their big three, and corner threes are a huge part of Coach Popovich’s system that has been so successful over the years. The Spurs are fourth in the league in percentage from three-point range as a team, and rank seventh in the league in makes per game. Ensuring that role players such as Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal do not catch fire from beyond the arc is as important as keeping Parker and Ginobili out of the paint.
Dwight Howard – It is Dwight Howard’s time to be the Lakers’ undisputed leader and a go-to player on the offensive end. Popovich is almost sure to institute the “Hack-a-Dwight” at some point in the series, and Dwight must maintain his mental focus through these times. If Dwight doesn’t average somewhere in the range of 25 points and 13-15 rebounds per game in his matchup with Tim Duncan, it is difficult to envision the Lakers winning this series.
Game 1, First Round, Western Conference
Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs
12:30 PM PST, April 21, 2013
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
CA TV: ABC
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves: G Manu Ginobili, G Gary Neal, F Matt Bonner
Game 1: Tonight
Game 2: Apr 23, Los Angeles at San Antonio
Game 3: Apr 26, Los Angeles vs. San Antonio
Game 4: Apr 28, Los Angeles vs. San Antonio
*Game 5: Apr 30, Los Angeles at San Antonio
*Game 6: May 2, Los Angeles vs. San Antonio
*Game 7: May 4, Los Angeles at San Antonio