On Friday night the Lakers logged a Cadmean victory over the Warriors. On one hand it was a great come-from-behind win, which the Lakers desperately needed, but in some ways it felt empty since they lost their best player and team leader to injury. Kobe tore his achilles and will be out six to nine months after surgery. The onus will be on the remaining players to come together as a team and pick up the torch of desire and competitiveness that Kobe possessed. The good news is that the Lakers are still in the playoff hunt, but they need to stay focused and win the remaining two games.
The Spurs currently trail OKC by half a game for 1st place and more importantly home court advantage in the playoffs. The biggest question for the Spurs tonight is if Coach Pop will opt to rest his starters or go for the win and home court advantage. The Lakers will not be able to control which line-up Coach Pop plays, but instead they should focus on their own intensity as they prepare to face one of the best teams in the League.
Frontcourt: As Tim Duncan approaches his 37th birthday, he has remained as consistent as ever posting 17.7 points, 9.9 boards and 2.7 blocks. The offense no longer runs through him, but that hasn’t deterred his focus or skills. Duncan is the ultimate team-oriented superstar, who will be in the hall of fame one day. He’ll be a tough assignment for Gasol to cover. Center Tiago Splitter has taken another step in his development but still struggles on the defense. Splitter isn’t a polished offensive player, and he mainly scores within two to three feet of the hoop on assists from Parker. Dwight Howard should be able to assert himself on offense and dominate Splitter in one-on-one situations.
Backcourt: Tony Parker recently returned from injury and showed no signs of any rust as he tallied 22 points and 10 assists against the Kings. Parker is without a doubt the best player on this squad and the catalyst for the offense. His dribble penetration is one of the best in the league, and he loves operating off screen-rolls. UNC product Danny Green revived his young career with the Spurs and has accepted his role of three point specialist. Green is hitting 2.3 threes on 43.9 percent shooting. He’s also an above average defender who can make life hard for opposing guards. Standing 6’6’’, small forward Kawhi Leonard is undersized for his position, but he’s still managing to pull down six boards per game. Leonard is an efficient scorer (50 percent from the field) and a superb defensive stopper.
Backup guards Cory Joseph and Gary Neal both fit into the Spurs team oriented small ball very well and cannot be taken lightly. Coach Pop, more than any other coach in the league, knows how to maximize his players talents within his system.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Take Care of the Ball – Steve Nash is a game time decision for tonight’s contest. If he’s unable to play then the offense will likely be out of sync without their two primary ball handlers. With that in mind, the Lakers need to make a concerted effort to take care of the rock and not allow the Spurs pesky defenders to turn them over.
Team Effort on Both Sides of the Court – The Spurs are a well coached team who play ultimate team basketball for 48 minutes. On the other hand, the Lakers’ intensity can waver throughout the course of a game. Now is the time for the team to rise up and come together sans Kobe. If they don’t, they will surely lose tonight’s contest and the season may be over for them. They will need to execute on offense and commit to helping each other on defense.
Stop Dribble Penetration – No one on the roster can stay in front of Parker one-on-one, so they will have to play superb defense in order to limit him. D’Antoni unfortunately doesn’t seem to devise team defensive schemes and instead relies on his players to just play vanilla man-to-man. If Parker is allowed to roam the paint at will, then the Lakers will be at his mercy. It’s absolutely paramount for the team to figure out how they can stop Parker’s deadly dribble penetration.
San Antonio Spurs (58-21) at Los Angeles Lakers (43-37)
6:30 PM PST, April 14, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Nando De Colo
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves: PG: Cory Joseph, PF/C: Dejuan Blair, G: Gary Neal