The Lakers continue their six-game home stand as they face the 6-1 San Antonio Spurs tonight in downtown Los Angeles. While the Lakers have been hammered by the media coverage of the hiring of new coach, Mike D’Antoni, the team must disregard those distractions and focus on the game at hand. The Lakers have won two consecutive games under interim coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, and will be presented with their toughest challenge with the Spurs during this home stand.
The Spurs always find a way to be relevant and competitive year in and year out under the helm of long-time coach Gregg Popovich. The Lakers/Spurs rivalry over the past decade or so have made for some of the most grueling and entertaining games of the seasons. The Lakers have an all-time record of 74-72 against the Spurs with a 45-27 home record against San Antonio. Can the Lakers be perfect under Bernie Bickerstaff?
Frontcourt: The Spurs frontcourt is much smaller this season from those in the past with a 6’8″ Boris Diaw listed as center. While Diaw’s performance has improved under the direction of Gregg Popovich (shooting 61.5 percent from the field), Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol should have the absolute advantage in this match-up. Howard and Gasol need to take full advantage of this battle and push the ball low in the post.
Guarding and limiting Tim Duncan’s offense game is still a must, even in his veteran years. Duncan is always a threat to have one of his big games, so defending him closely is a key for Gasol. Duncan leads the Spurs in points (18.9), blocks (2.43) and rebounds (9.7) per game in 30.1 minutes. He has four double-doubles this season.
Tiago Splitter’s averages are slightly down this season compared to his career averages. Overall, he is posting 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds off the Spurs’ bench.
Backcourt: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili remain just as relevant in the Spurs “Big Three” today (along with Duncan) despite their veteran status. Parker is once again ranked in the top ten in the league for assists with 7.7 per game. He is adding 12.7 points per game, but is struggling from the field, shooting 39.0 percent. Therefore, forcing Parker to shoot outside, well-defended shots would be ideal.
The Ginobili/Bryant battle is one of my personal favorite position match-ups to watch in the NBA. This battled has even turned international with Olympic play. Ginobili’s production has been decreased due to a couple of injuries (8.8 points and 4.0 assists per game), but his presence is still valuable for the Spurs.
Danny Green has provided a consistent level of offense with averages of 11.7 points, 2.7 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game on 53.4 percent shooting. Kawhi Leonard is starting to find his groove as a starter (began last season) and his stats are benefiting from the higher minutes. Leonard averages 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and leads the team in steals with 2.14 per game (2nd in the league).
Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal are very solid reserves, averaging 8.3 and 11.6 points respectively. They are threats for long-range shots and therefore perimeter defense from the Lakers’ bench must step up to this task.
Keys to Victory:
Keep the Offense Loose: Bernie Bickerstaff has approached his short time as interim coach with a laid back attitude. He has reminded and encouraged the players to have fun and do the thing they all already know how to do: play basketball. The Lakers have played the last two games by reading and reacting to each other and the defense. There has been no set system, but rather playing the game by feel.
So far, it has worked. I expect the Lakers to continue playing with this philosophy on offense against San Antonio. The turnovers continue to be problematic for the Lakers (ranked 28th in the league with 18.1 per game). I expect the number of turnovers to be in the 14-18 range tonight as they continue with a no-set offense. However, I expect the turnover average to decrease once the Lakers get accustomed to D’Antoni’s system.
Defense: The Spurs are ranked first in the league for assists per game, averaging 25 per contest. One of the biggest strengths of Coach Popovich’s offensive system has always been that the Spurs excel at spreading the floor, which goes hand in hand with solid ball movement. Therefore, the Lakers must make it a goal to shrink the floor for the Spurs and prevent the extra pass. Dwight Howard will also have to show off his ability to defend the pick-and-roll tonight, as the Spurs love to use it.
The second priority for the Lakers on their defensive effort is to control the boards. The good news is that the Spurs are ranked 27th in the league in rebounding, averaging 39.0 rebounds per game. On the other hand, the Lakers are ranked 4th in the league in rebounding, with 47.3 per game. However, the fact that the Lakers have the advantage on the glass doesn’t mean they can fall asleep on the boards. Controlling the glass is the best way for the Lakers to control the pace of the game and to limit the Spurs’ transition game.
San Antonio Spurs (6-1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3-4)
7:30 PM PST, November 13, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network, NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Boris Diaw
Key Reserves: G Manu Ginobili, G Gary Neal, F Stephen Jackson F Tiago Splitter