After the mounting comeback fell short in a 123-122 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers travel to face the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the Texas two-step.
Besides losing four straight and the last 11 of 12 games, the young core showed glimpses of their potential in Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves. With Kobe Bryant electing to sit the fourth quarter, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle anchored the team to give the Lakers a chance in overtime. Russell, who has been on the bench late in games, finally showed why he was taken No. 2 overall as he tied the game with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation. He finished with a career-high 23 points as Randle finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds for his 10th double-double this season.
The Lakers will now play the first of a Texas back-to-back as they face the revamped San Antonio Spurs who are off to a strong start in the 2015-16 season.
The Spurs frontcourt is a mix of past, present and future. Although he isn’t the same All-Star power forward that he used to be, Tim Duncan is still a valuable asset to the team. He may only be averaging 9.6 points and 8.6 rebound per game in limited action this season (27.2 minutes per), but the five-time NBA champion knows his role will be relinquished come playoff time. The one thing the NBA should know by now is never count out these “old” Spurs, and that includes the 18-year veteran.
The newest addition to the frontcourt this season is four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who the Lakers tried to lure this past offseason in free agency. After a solid career in his time with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge knew his best chance to win an NBA title was coming home to Texas and signed a four-year, $80 million deal. Aldridge’s numbers have dropped in his time here (averaging 15.4 points and 8.8. rebounds per game), but that was expected as he shares minutes with a deep roster. With a better team now and Duncan in his ear, Aldridge is looking to play the same role he did when David Robinson mentored Duncan.
The Spurs just have a knack for finding right players, and that’s what they found with Kawhi Leonard. After trading for him in the 2011 NBA Draft, Leonard has emerged as one of the NBA’s elite forwards. What makes him so special is that he’s a two-way player; which is why he received 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. After re-signing with the Spurs on a five-year, $90 million contract, the San Diego State product is off to his best season averaging 21.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In a team that’s considered one of the older and slower teams of the league, Leonard is a rising young star that the Spurs are looking to build off of for the future.
Tony Parker still anchors the backcourt besides having a reduced role this season similar to Duncan’s. He may not be as quick as he used to be, but the 34-year-old still manages to make a knack of slicing through defenses with his relatively small size. Just like Duncan and Manu Ginobli, Parker’s game excels come playoff time. After finishing with only four points in Wednesday’s 97-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, both Parker and the Spurs will be looking to bounce back against the Lakers.
Alongside Parker, there’s Danny Green and Manu Ginobli in the backcourt. Although Green gets the nod to start, Ginoblli’s role is just as valuable since he’s made a career out of being one of the best sixth man of the NBA. With the Spurs being such an unselfish team, the mix of Green and Ginobli at shooting guard is great. Green always does what is asked: knock down shots, defend, rebound and pass. And Ginobli does the same, except his experience and craftiness gives him the ability to make plays down the stretch in games. In much of Coach Gregg Popovich’s liking, having two solid players at one position isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Keys To Victory:
The Lakers have a bad knack of starting games off slow, which is one of the reasons why they always have to play from behind. Facing a San Antonio Spurs team that is coming off a bad outing, they’ll have to start strong if they want to keep this game close. Having Lou Williams in the starting lineup now can potentially help this happen.
Carry Momentum From Last Game:
Although they lost in overtime, the Lakers young core looked great down the stretch against Minnesota. The two that particularly played well were D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, who were both unhappy that they removed from the starting lineup earlier this week. With not much to cheer about coming into Texas with a 3-19 record, hopefully being competitive last game will give the team, in particular the young guys, the confidence needed to get a win in San Antonio on Friday.
Los Angeles Lakers (3-19) vs. San Antonio Spurs (18-5)
6:30 PM PST, December 11, 2015
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: SF: Nick Young, PF: Julius Randle
Spurs Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Tim Duncan
Key Reserves: PG: Patty Mills, SG: Manu Ginobli, PF: David West