The Los Angeles Lakers had a chance to really prove they had taken a step forward on Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately, all they proved was that they are still a ways away from being taken seriously as a playoff contender. Now things really turn up as they hit the road to take on one of the elite teams in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.
These two teams met back in November with the Spurs claiming a hard-fought victory at Staples Center. Things have changed since then for the Lakers who went through an awful month of December, but have looked much better in 2017.
The Spurs continue to do what they do every year, win games while seemingly flying under the radar. Like the Lakers, they are also coming off a loss, a 109-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks so they will be looking to get back on track as they’ve only lost back-to-back games one time this season.
Tony Parker has taken a step back this year. No longer required to be the main scorer for this team he now picks his spots, but when he needs to turn it on he is still one of the best at getting to the rim and finishing. He is also a much better shooter than early on in his career and is knocking down just over 38 percent of his shots from deep.
Next to him is ‘3-and-D’ specialist Danny Green, a good defender who will likely draw the task of chasing Nick Young around, but is also a great shooter himself, hitting 45.7 percent of his threes. The Lakers must make sure not to help too much off of him.
Off the bench, the Spurs have a pair of reliable veterans in Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills. The future Hall of Famer Ginobili has slowed down, now that he’s almost 40 years old, but he’s still as crafty as ever and can create for himself and others, while Mills is always a threat from deep.
D’Angelo Russell struggled shooting in his last game, but has still been great for the most part recently. He has kept his turnovers down and is controlling the game with his court vision and passing. Look for him to take Parker to the post as the Spurs’ guard is too small to handle him down there.
Nick Young has been in a slump these last few games, shooting only 25 percent from three-point range in the last four games. He will need to turn that around in a hurry as his hot shooting can really change the momentum of the game.
The combo of Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson continues to be the best bench combo in the league and teams never know who will go off on any given night. Williams’ knack for drawing fouls and Clarkson’s explosiveness make them tough to contain and they will play a huge role tonight.
The Spurs have one of the best front lines in the entire NBA as Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol are a load to deal with both individually and as a group.
Leonard has turned into one of the 10 best players in the entire league and can score just as easily as he can lock down your best player. He has improved his outside shooting significantly, giving him a complete repertoire of moves on the offensive end while his length causes nightmares on defense.
Aldridge is another perennial All-Star and one of the best post scorers in the NBA as his long arms make his signature fadeaway jumper nearly impossible to block. Gasol is well known to Lakers fans and while he isn’t quite what he used to be, his array of moves and outstanding Basketball IQ make him a threat in so many ways.
Off the bench, the Spurs have guys who all know their roles and play them well. Jonathan Simmons is an outstanding athlete who can wreak havoc on both ends of the floor, Davis Bertans is a typical stretch-4 who can get hot in an instant, and Dewayne Dedmon is a big physical body on the block.
Julius Randle struggled against the Blazers and he could be in for another tough night as he can struggle with length and Aldridge and Gasol provide just that. He will need to find a way to be effective as the Lakers need him to play well to win.
Luol Deng has been up and down recently, but being matched up against Kawhi Leonard means his primary focus should be on containing him on the offensive end. The same goes for Timofey Mozgov who will have to be physical when matched up against either Gasol or Aldridge as both are extremely skilled.
Rookie Brandon Ingram has been excellent recently, scoring in double-figures in the last four games. He must keep up that streak and make an impact on this game. Likewise, Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson will need to bring their trademark energy and crash the glass.
Keys To Victory:
Guard The 3-Point Line
San Antonio is the best three-point shooting team in the league shooting 41.2 percent as a team. They have seven players who knock down at least 40 percent from deep. It’s impossible to just shut them down, but the Lakers must at least challenge them at the line and not allow them to get open looks.
Win The Bench War
The Spurs possess one of the few bench units that can match the Lakers in both depth and scoring ability. Dominating the second unit has been a key to the Lakers’ success this year, but that will be tough tonight. Even still, they must at least win the battle in order to give this team a chance.
Don’t Fold Under Pressure
When things have gotten tough for the Lakers, they have had a tendency to revert back to their old ways of one-on-one offense and laziness on defense. The Spurs are going to go on runs and push them, the Lakers must not lose focus as lack of execution will be their undoing in San Antonio.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-27) vs. San Antonio Spurs (30-8)
5:30 P.M. PST, January 12th, 2017
AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Spurs Starting Lineup:
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol
Key Reserves: Manu Ginobili, Jonathan Simmons, Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, Dewayne Dedmon
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Brandon Ingram, Thomas Robinson, Tarik Black