Lakers vs Spurs:
The first round NBA Western Conference Playoffs matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs could very well boast six future NBA Hall of Famers. Unfortunately for the Lakers the greatest player of them all, Kobe Bryant, is sidelined with a potential career threatening Achilles tear. Even with Bryant on the sidelines the Lakers are the popular pick with many pundits as team that can potentially pull an upset in the first round.
With Bryant out the Lakers and coach Mike D’Antoni switched up their game plan in the final two games of the season, wins over the Spurs and the Houston Rockets. With dual seven footers inside in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol the Lakers emphasized more traditional interior basketball and were extremely effective. The season has been a rollercoaster for the Lakers but they are in the playoffs and have a real opportunity to upset the Spurs. The key player for the Lakers is clearly Dwight Howard. The best center in the NBA had a difficult start to the season while recovering from offseason back surgery. At times he struggled with his explosiveness and ability to recover in back to back games. In the past month Howard has greatly improved his play and now has the look and enthusiasm of the Dwight Howard who played in Orlando. The Spurs are a deep and veteran laden team but can be susceptible to a strong tandem of post players. During the regular season Spurs coach Greg Popovich was able to restrict Tim Duncan’s minutes but that will have to change in the postseason. In the second to last game of the year versus the Lakers Duncan looked like he had turned back to clock with a handful of impressive post dunks. With shortened rotations in the playoffs and the need for the Spurs to potentially play Duncan as many as forty minutes per game the battle between Gasol/Howard and Duncan and Tiago Splitter will have their hands full. Splitter in particular will be important to watch. He’s a key player inside for San Antonio but struggled mightily in the playoffs last season and has developed a reputation as a player that sometimes shrinks in the postseason. For all the Spurs depth in the backcourt and at the swingman position they lack depth on the interior, which is the Lakers strength.
The Spurs advantage is clearly in the backcourt with Tony Parker. The lighting-quick point guard is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA with his ability to penetrate the lane to create scoring opportunities for he and his teammates. One concern for the Spurs is the health of Parker. He’s struggled with injuries all season and during the month of April has struggled at times with his explosiveness and has often lacked the ability to get to the place he does most of his damage, the lane. Even with one of the greatest players in league history at power forward in Tim Duncan the key to a Spurs series win is Parker. With Steve Nash struggling with his health all season the Lakers may be forced to cover Parker with Steve Blake, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon. The thought of an injured Nash on the bench while Blake and company struggle with Parker is something the Lakers would probably like to avoid.
Like any playoff series this one will likely come down to the bench and performance of the role players. The Spurs made an interesting move in picking up former superstar Tracy McGrady for the playoff run. It will be interesting to see what role McGrady plays, if any. The Spurs are clearly deeper than the Lakers, but if the Lakers role players can hold their own this series should go down to the wire. The key for the Lakers is to head into San Antonio with maximum energy to steal a game on the road. If this series comes back to STAPLES Center 1-1 the Lakers have more than a fighting chance.
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