Leonard has played well against the Lakers this season, averaging 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in the Spurs’ games against Los Angeles. His ability to knock down outside shots (38% from three-point range) will continue to be an issue if the Lakers struggle to cover outside shooters like they’ve done for the majority of the season.
World Peace is a bit of a wild card after coming back so quickly from knee surgery. Since returning he’s averaged just 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Lakers, and has been unable to get his outside shot to fall (2-12 3PT). While World Peace’s strengths are usually on the defensive end, he’s had more and more trouble remaining effective as the season has gone along. Still, if he’s able to get his shot going from outside and play solid defense, he can be a difference-maker for the Lakers defensively. The problem for the Lakers is that they haven’t seen that from World Peace in quite some time.
Power Forward: Matt Bonner vs. Pau Gasol
This is a tricky matchup for the Lakers. With Bonner’s ability to step outside and shoot the long ball (44%), Gasol will be tested a bit more than usual. But, just like Bonner’s advantage will be to draw Gasol outside, Pau has the opportunity to continue his recent hot streak in the paint. Gasol finished the regular season on a tear, recording triple-doubles in two of his final three games of the regular season.
Center: Tim Duncan vs. Dwight Howard
In what is easily the most intriguing matchup of the series, two future Hall of Fame big men will square off in the post. Tim Duncan has had a remarkable season, turning back the clock and continuing to be one of the most effective and efficient players in the league. For Howard, it’s been a trying season filled with injuries, but he’s still managed to fight through them and put up strong numbers for the Lakers.
Howard is averaging 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, but has been a huge force defensively for the Lakers down the stretch. For a team like that Spurs that possesses a dynamic point guard with the ability to get into the lane, Howard’s presence will be crucial. But Duncan is no slouch himself, and should be able to match Howard on both ends of the floor. There’s a very good chance that the winner of this particular matchup will have the advantage on that particular night.
Sixth Man: Manu Ginobili vs. Antawn Jamison
Ginobili is obviously a starter-caliber player in the league, but thrives in his position as the Spurs’ sixth man. He has been attempting to overcome an injury lately, but finished the regular season by playing 12 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jamison, on the other hand, has been an enigma for the Lakers. After going from bench warmer to starter and back to reserve, Jamison has played just about every role for this team in 2013. He’s been glaringly inconsistent, but that’s to be expected from a player who hasn’t received consistent minutes.
Jamison’s contributions will be key for the Lakers, but expecting him to match what Ginobili provides for the Spurs isn’t exactly fair. Still, if Antawn can make his outside shots and contribute offensively, he has the chance to be a positive factor for the Lakers.
ADVANTAGE: Spurs (if Ginobili stays healthy)
Overall, there aren’t a lot of pluses in the Laker category here. With the positional breakdowns there are obvious circumstances where the Spurs have an advantage, but as a complete unit the Lakers might be able to hold up a little better. Even without Bryant, the team has been able to play well enough to win two straight games against Western Conference playoff teams (San Antonio, Houston) to finish up the regular season. While not many people expect them to actually beat the Spurs without their best player, with the talent on the roster and the recent streak they’ve been on, it’s entirely possible the Lakers make things a little more interesting than most are expecting.
PREDICTION: Spurs in 6
In case you missed it, be sure to check out what Mitch Kupchak had to say about the Lakers amnestying Kobe Bryant!
Don’t forget to click here to subscribe to our Lakers Nation YouTube Channel!