Make no mistake about it though, in Coach Jackson’s mind the Spurs are the Lakers #1 rival. As Doug Collins said in a broadcast “the Lakers only respect one team in the league and that’s San Antonio.”
Case in point: despite the Lakers significant over the lead over the Spurs Sunday afternoon, Coach Jackson left Pau in the game for much of the fourth quarter and re-inserted the Black Mamba with five minutes left. It was a statement game, and the Lakers left their mark Sunday.
Their respective supporting casts have changed over the years but as long as the Lakers have their star (the Black Mamba) and the Spurs have theirs (Parker, Duncan and Ginobili) they’ll be eternally contenders.
Their end result may be the same but that’s where the similarities end. The Spurs’ management have traditionally built through the draft (George Hill and Tony Parker) and the acquisition of savvy veterans as the final pieces to their championship puzzle(Richard Jefferson, Michael Finley).
And the Lakers have dipped into the free-agent market (Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal) and made trades (Pau Gasol) whenever they need reinforcements.
The Spurs recently became the first team to reach 50 wins with a win over the lowly Cavaliers. With a quarter of the season left to play, the Spurs sit six and a half games clear of the Lakers for first-place in the West.
Since the all-star break the Lakers have been 7-0, you can attribute the Lakers’ winning ways to Kobe’s leadership, the presence of Bynum or the return of Barnes. But really, the two-time defending champs were just buying their time, saving their legs, and waiting for someone to wake them up. Consider Sunday’s win a wakeup call after dozing off in Cleveland just before the break.
“Something like this, a game like this over a team like San Antonio, gives you confidence and restores a comfort level,” Gasol said. “You never think that you’re going to be up by 32 points against that type of team. So it does take you back. Maybe it restores your own belief in how good you can be.”