After playing back-to-back nights, the Los Angeles Lakers got some rest on Thursday as they prepare to face the reigning Western Conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs. This marks the first meeting between these two teams since the Spurs swept the Lakers in the first round of last year’s playoffs. With the Lakers getting embarrassed by the Warriors 125-94 on Wednesday night, they will look to bounce back against a long-time division rival.
Frontcourt: With Tim Duncan doubtful for tonight’s game with a chest contusion, all eyes will be on the third-year forward out of San Diego State, Kawhi Leonard. While Spurs fans were aware of how gifted Leonard is, he established himself as one of the best young players in the league after going head-to-head against LeBron James in the NBA Finals this past June. Although he missed a crucial free-throw in Game 6 that would have sealed another championship for the Spurs, Leonard averaged 14.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in his first Finals appearance. With Duncan near the end of his career, Leonard looks to take the next step for the Spurs this season.
Backcourt: When talking about the best point guards in the NBA, Tony Parker is rarely mentioned even though he is the most accomplished one of them all. After an MVP-type caliber season last year, Parker looks to lead the Spurs to another 50-win season. Despite turning 31-years-old in May, Parker remains one of the fastest players in the league and has plenty of help in the backcourt. While Manu Ginobili struggled in the Finals and contemplated retirement, he returns to form a dynamic duo at the shooting guard position with Danny Green. Quite similarly to Kawhi Leonard, Green established himself in the Finals as he averaged 14.0 points while breaking the Finals three-point record with 27.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Defense: It’s a small sample size, but the defense needs to improve. In the first two games of the season, the Lakers have given up 114 points (ranked 27th in the NBA) on 51.5 percent shooting (27th). If the Lakers want to make the playoffs, they’ll need to pick up their defensive energy to generate easy opportunities on offense. With numerous young and athletic additions on the perimeter, they need to do a better job of keeping their man in front of them since rim protection is going to be this year’s defensive liability.
Shooting Percentage: The Lakers are averaging 105 points through two games, but they are only shooting 42.3 percent from the field (20th) and 69.4 from the free-throw line (20th). The reason why they were able to beat the Clippers on opening night was because of their three-point shooting. Los Angeles is currently shooting 46.8 percent from three-point land (4th) on 23.5 attempts, but they shouldn’t expect that percentage to continue through the season. Jump-shooting teams never win championships and these Lakers need to go through the post more often.
Energy: For years, the Lakers could win games solely on talent. However, this year is different and the first two games of the season revealed both sides of the spectrum. If the Lakers outwork teams like they did against the Clippers, they will make the playoffs. However, if the energy isn’t there on a consistent basis, this year’s Lakers can easily get embarrassed like they did against the Warriors.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 7.5 point underdogs via Sportsbook.
San Antonio Spurs (1-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (1-1)
7:30 PM PST, November 1, 2013
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN, TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Boris Diaw
C: Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves: SG: Manu Ginobili, SG: Marco Belinelli, C: Matt Bonner