The Lakers continue to deal with the daunting task of being without the frontcourt while trying to dig their way out of a deep hole in the standings. On top of that, the Lakers are coming off another loss (their fourth in a row) to Houston last night, which saw heavy minutes from Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace. Despite coming out of the gate with energy and hustle yesterday, the Rockets kept grinding their way into the paint in the second half, exposing the Lakers’ current weakness of inside defense.
The Spurs always find a way to be relevant and competitive year in and year out under the helm of long-time coach Gregg Popovich. The Lakers/Spurs rivalry over the past decade or so has made for some of the most grueling and entertaining games of the seasons. The Lakers have an all-time record of 74-73 against the Spurs with a 29-45 road record against San Antonio.
Frontcourt: While the Spurs are much smaller than they have been in the past, the Lakers’ strength of size will not make an appearance tonight since Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill are all out with injuries. With Tiago Splitter starting at center tonight, rookie Robert Sacre must manage to play defense without fouling. Sacre’s contribution will be best suited for boxing Splitter out, getting rebounds and showing his presence in the paint.
Guarding and limiting Tim Duncan’s offense game is still a must, even in his veteran years. Duncan remains a top contributor to the Spurs in points (17.7) and leads the team in blocks (2.5) and rebounds (9.6) per game in 30.0 minutes. He has seventeen double-doubles this season (tied for fifth in the league). To say Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison have tough defensive assignments is a big understatement.
Kawhi Leonard is one of those players that has the ability to shoot and make plays from just about anywhere on the offensive end. This has been the primary reason why he was promoted as a starter last season and has been given much higher minutes. Leonard averages 8.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and leads the team in steals with 1.9 per game.
Backcourt: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili remain just as relevant in the Spurs “Big Three” today (along with Duncan) despite their veteran status. Parker is once again ranked in the top ten (eighth) in the league for assists with 7.2 per game. He is adding 19.1 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting. It will crucial for the Lakers to force Parker from dribble penetration to get into the lane and from utilizing the pick-and-roll game.
I have mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. The Ginobili/Bryant battle is one of my personal favorite position match-ups to watch in the NBA. From the early 2000s to the the Olympics to the present, this battle doesn’t disappoint. Ginobili’s production remains crucial not only as the long-time Spurs’ bench leader, but to the team’s performance.
Danny Green was a name that was imprinted in Laker fans’ minds earlier this season, when he made the game-winnning three-point shot against the Lakers at Staples Center. Green has provided a consistent level of offense with averages of 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds in 27.1 minutes per game on 44.7 percent shooting. He will have a difficult assignment with defending Kobe Bryant, who will have the brightest green light on the offense without the Laker bigs out of the lineup.
Reserves Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal cannot be forgotten on defense, as they add an important consistency and balance to the Spurs offense. Jackson averages 6.8 points on 37.5 percent shooting in 29.1 minutes per game, while Neal puts up 10.7 points on 42.8 percent shooting in 24.2 minutes per game.
Keys to Victory:
Consistent Effort and Ball Movement: In the first half of last night’s game, the reason why the Lakers were able to create a lead going into halftime was because they shared the ball. They made the extra pass, which cuts down turnovers. Less turnovers means less transition opportunities for opponents, which is a wonderful consequence for the horrible transition defense Lakers team. The energy was also high in the first half because sharing the ball creates excitement and gets everyone involved. Essentially, you easily create momentum when you generate good ball movement.
The offense cannot be stagnate at all against the Spurs in any quarter if the Lakers want a chance in this game. While 40 percent of the Lakers starting line-up is out, some young ones are getting a big chance to get real minutes. The effort level was on a much higher level last night, but they began to fall asleep on both ends in the second half. The entire team needs to play with every ounce of effort that have. These Lakers are in desperate times for it.
Defense is the Name of the Game: The Spurs aren’t the youngest or fastest team in the league, but they are superb at finding a rhythm with their offense, which allows them to control the pace of the game. Therefore, the Lakers defense must find ways to disrupt this rhythm and to stop the consistency of the offensively efficient Spurs team.
Grabbing rebounds is a necessary point in the Lakers’ goal of controlling the pace. The Lakers maintain a higher average for boards per game over the Spurs, but that average is with board hoarders of Howard, Gasol and Hill. The Lakers’ defense must stop the extra pass, as the Spurs are ranked first in NBA for assists per game with 25.2 and 63.5 percent of the field goals are made on assists (ranked second in the league).
Overall, the Spurs are ranked third in the NBA for points per game (104.9). The Lakers need to keep them off the three-point line, where they have a 38.5 percent conversion rate. In fact, the Spurs’ three-point game accounts for 25 percent of their total scoring per game. The Lakers’ defense must start and finish strong as the Spurs average 26.8 points (2nd in NBA) in first quarter and close strong with 27.1 points in the fourth, which is ranked first in the league.
The Rockets exposed the Lakers lack of size in the second half of last night’s loss, propelling them to take complete control of the game. Inside defense will be the most critical need for the Lakers tonight. That is because the Spurs are a very solid inside offense, with an average of 43.6 points coming from inside the paint per night. Their points in the paint accounts for 41.5 percent of their offense.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-19) vs. San Antonio Spurs (27-10)
5:00 PM PST, January 9, 2013
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
TV: TWC Sports Network, ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
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 Stephen Jackson