The Lakers will close out their season in San Antonio against what is likely to be a skeleton crew as Coach Popovich rests his starters for the playoffs. This has been a miserable season for the Lakers due to a myriad of injuries that affected nearly everyone on the roster. As they enter the off-season with their eyes set on acquiring a promising young star in the lottery, there will be many questions about the future of the Lakers franchise. Will Mike D’Antoni return to the sideline next year as head coach? What significant off-season moves, if any, will the Lakers make? Will the Lakers save cap space for 2015 when Kevin Love becomes a free agent?
Frontcourt: It’s hard to project exactly who the Spurs will play tonight since Coach Pop is famous for resting his key players before the playoffs. Since the Spurs have locked up the number one overall seed, their main focus is that all of their players remain healthy going into the playoffs. Tim Duncan has been surprisingly consistent and solid in his 17th season. Most importantly he’s remained healthy and has played in 74 contests this season in which he averaged 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds. Duncan’s play style which is rooted in fundamentals has allowed him to be successful late into his career. Don’t be surprised if he sits or plays limited minutes tonight.
Another key for the Spurs success this season has been the emergence of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard may be the youngest player in the starting unit but he already has the demeanor of a veteran. He goes about his business with craftsmen efficiency and helps the Spurs in just about every aspect of the game: rebounding, scoring and defense. His effective field goal percentage of 57.4% is among the best in the league which proves that he’s deadly efficient in his scoring opportunities. There’s no doubt that Kawhi will be one of the franchise players in the Spurs future post Duncan retirement.
Backcourt: Tony Parker is the key cog to the Spurs offense and he has historically shredded the Lakers defense. Parker is a superb pick and roll player and when he catches the ball going full speed off of multiple screens he’s nearly unstoppable. Last game against the Lakers he went off for 25 points and 5 assists. Chances are that Parker will sit out tonight’s contest as he got a bit banged up on Monday. In his place Cory Joseph will get the start.
The Spurs shooting guard rotation consists of several players who have a penchant for knocking down threes. Coach Pop has utilized former NBA castoffs, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, to maximize their potential as three-point specialists. Green leads the team with 1.9 treys per game and Belinelli leads the team with a 43% three-point shooting percentage. Additionally Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili provide additional fire power off the bench. Mills in particular has emerged as an “instant offense guy” off the bench and can put up points quickly.
Closing Season Thoughts:
Since the outcome of tonight’s game doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I’m going to take this opportunity to summarize some themes from this season.
Injuries: It cannot be overstated how devastating injuries have been for the Lakers this year. They used 35 different starting lineups this season and players have missed over 240 games cumulatively due to injuries. No other team was as injured as the Lakers this year. Most casual NBA fans would not even recognize the Lakers starting roster without Kobe, Gasol and Nash. There’s no doubt that the Lakers medical staff had their hands full this season.
Defense: This Lakers team doesn’t have any regard for defense which is a large contributor to the worst Lakers season in team history. The team’s defensive rating (108.1) is among the bottom three in the league right there with the Bucks and the Jazz. Defensive rating measures the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions. For comparison the Spurs 100.0 defensive rating is fourth best in the NBA. Clearly a culture change will be required soon if the Lakers plan to be good any time in the near future.
Rebounding: The Lakers have the worst rebounding differential in league at -8.1 and it’s not even close. On Sunday the Lakers were out-rebounded by 20 boards by the Grizzlies and that wasn’t the first time the team has been out-rebounded by such a large margin. Not surprisingly the Lakers lead the league in second chance points allowed with 15.9 points per game. They lead the league in this negative stat by a large margin. Clearly poor rebounding has negatively affected this Lakers squad.
Los Angeles Lakers (26-55) at San Antonio Spurs (62-19)
6:00 PM PST, April 16, 2014
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Boris Diaw
Key Reserves: SG: Manu Ginobili, PG: Patty Mills, SG: Marco Belinelli, C: Tiago Splitter
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Jordan Hill
Pau Gasol Receives Standing Ovation In Final Lakers Home Game