Last week I started a series of articles to go a bit more in-depth into the Lakers top competition in the West this upcoming season. Laker fans are anticipating these match-ups since there is such a high level of expectation for the Lakers this year, especially against these Western competitors that hope to stand in their way in making it into the Finals. The West continues to offer intriguing battles, and with the new-look Lakers focused on winning a title, which isn’t new but more intense, these match-ups have become even more hyped.
Last Thursday, I talked about the Oklahoma City Thunder and analyzed how the personnel changes made to the Lakers in the off-season changes the landscape of how the battle between L.A. and OKC on paper, and hopefully in reality, may result differently this year. Later this week, I will go into detail about the Denver Nuggets, who forced the Lakers to seven games in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
For now, I would like to discuss the team with the best record in the West last season, the San Antonio Spurs.
In my opinion, the San Antonio Spurs will be a force in the league as long as Gregg Popovich is head coach. Popovich is the engine for the Spurs, which is quite unusual in the NBA.
Coach Popovich’s system is one of the best in NBA history as interchangeable parts (players) can be added or removed and as his record proves, it remains successful and keeps them in contention year after year in the West. Popovich’s winning percentage during the regular season over the past 16 years with the Spurs is .680. He has a winning percentage of .605 in the post-season.
Of course, Popovich has had the good fortune of having Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to lead the implementation of his system. Don’t let that discredit Popovich’s career as Phil Jackson also had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to initiate the Triangle offense on the court. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been the permanent columns that have supported the Spurs system and allowed their young teammates to fill in the gaps along the way.
Just when we thought the Spurs big three was “too old” and beginning to fade away in their perspective games, each has either adjusted their game to still be effective (Duncan) or continue to play each season with strong consistency. Last season, Tony Parker reasserted himself as one of the league’s top point guards, while Ginobili and Duncan remained true to their ability to impact any given game.
Last season, the Spurs gave the Lakers problems in two areas in their wins (2-1 overall record against L.A. in regular season). These two areas were in fastbreak points and with points in the paint. Fastbreak situations were a problem that I brought up last week with the Lakers and OKC analysis. Just like last week, I believe this season’s Lakers are much more equipped to defend the break as the team has added speed to the point guard and center position that will be able to get back on defense a whole lot quicker. The Princeton offense and Steve Nash will improve shot accuracy and increase high percentage opportunities.
The other area that the Lakers had trouble with the Spurs last season was in points in the paint. Now you may be thinking that I’m crazy talking about points in the paint, as Andrew Bynum had a great year. However, when you look at the box score from the April 20, 2012 game, the Spurs outscored the Lakers 54-30 in points in the paint. Therefore, you can see that it was the Lakers who struggled to defend the Spurs’ pick-and-roll game that was their Kryptonite. However, I think the Lakers have brought in additions that can help deter the Spurs’ pick-and-roll, especially with Parker, and believe that Mike Brown will have a more solid plan to defend against this that he’ll address to the team during training camp.
During a recent Q & A session with Coach Popovich and fans, a fan asked him what were his thoughts of teams like the Heat and the Lakers stacking their roster and if that affected his coaching approach to his players. Below was his response:
What other teams do is not in our control, so we’ll worry about, as I said, incorporating Kawhi into the program more since he wasn’t here very long. Boris, Patty Mills, look for improvement in Danny Green, work our big guys. Tiago and DeJuan Blair I think are going to have very good seasons for us. So we’ll concentrate on that and what we need to do as a group, and we’ll see how we stack up.
The Spurs aren’t flashy and don’t get the big market publicity, but they remain one of the league’s elite year after year. They have a knack of flying under the radar and positioning themselves right into the mix. The mixture of Popovich’s system, the big three’s leadership and the young players’ growing talent that cannot be ignored, just as Popovich said above, make the Spurs a target for the Lakers.
The Spurs and Lakers have built a great rivalry with each other since the late 1990s. With the new-look Lakers rolling in on the West, I expect this battle to not disappoint.
In case you missed it – Lakers Locker Room Talk chats about Lakers/Clippers and the battle for L.A.
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