There’s no rest for the weary. The Lakers are trudging through a particularly tough portion of their schedule. After a splitting games with the Thunder, the Lakers kick off a two games series against the Spurs tonight. The Spurs are on an eight game winning streak and look to be playing some of their best basketball of the season. They currently have the best record in the league and seem poised to make a deep playoff run. The Lakers may be in over their heads tonight as they face a well oiled basketball machine in San Antonio.
Frontcourt: SAT throwback: Kobe is to the Lakers just like is to the Spurs. Pat yourself on the back if you filled in the blank with “Tim Duncan.” Duncan has been the face of the Spurs franchise for the entirety of his sixteen year career and while he’s lost a step or two, he’s still finding ways to contribute meaningfully this season. Duncan is averaging a double-double of 15.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. He’s a polished post player who is difficult to stop in the paint.
The heir apparent and spiritual successor to Tim Duncan looks to be Kawhi Leonard. He appears to be playing some of his best basketball of the season since returning from injury in late February. Leonard gets it done on both ends of the court with his scoring, rebounding defense and hustle plays. Don’t let his unchanging stoic expression fool you, Kawhi is a tenacious player who may be the most important player on the Spurs roster going forward.
When Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are on the court together the Spurs are at their best defensively. Splitter is very limited offensively, but he will take advantage of the Lakers poor rebounding which will lead to easy put backs. Splitter had seven offensive boards against the Lakers earlier this season.
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. He’s the Spurs leading scorer with 17.7 points per game but look for him to score 25+ against the Lakers’ porous defense. Danny Green has been relatively quiet this season after setting a three-point shooting record in the NBA finals last year. Green continues to be a sharp shooting threat with 1.7 treys per game on 40% shooting.
The Spurs backcourt is quite deep and they like to get Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli into the mix. In terms of ability they’re basically clones of the starters. Mills is a speedy point guard who can score in a hurry although he may not be as skilled of a passer as Parker. Belinelli’s primary job with the Spurs is to shoot threes and he’s undoubtedly the best shooter on the team. The Lakers can’t afford to leave him open at all.
Even though he’s losing his hair, Ginobili is still finding ways to score within the Spurs system. As one of the pioneers of the euro-step, he’s particularly crafty in the lane. He’s on a scoring tear lately and has averaged 19.6 points over the past three games.
Key to Lakers’ Victory:
Sustained Intensity: The Spurs are a very deep team and there’s not much of a drop off in play when the bench comes in to relieve the starters. Most of this is due to Coach Pop’s genius offensive system which stresses team concepts over individuality. Additionally the Spurs are disciplined and play hard for most if not all 48 minutes. The Lakers will need to maintain intense focus throughout the game in order to compete with the Spurs.
Defensive Rotations: The Spurs have amazing team chemistry and ball movement. This team lacks an ego and is willing to pass the ball around until they find the best shot available. The Lakers will need to be disciplined on defense and rotate. They will also need to figure out how to defend Tony Parker in the pick and roll. It’ll be an absolute blood bath if the Lakers fail to play defense properly tonight.
Hot Three Point Shooting: As with most games this season the Lakers will most likely live and die by the long ball. The Lakers attempt nearly 25 threes per game and if they can get hot from beyond the arc then they’ll have a fighting chance to hang with the Spurs. But if they’re cold we might see a loss similar in scale to the 48 point debacle against the Clippers. The Lakers shoot the three at 38.3% as a team which is third best in the NBA; the Spurs are a league best 39.3% from three.
Los Angeles Lakers (22-43) at San Antonio Spurs (48-16)
5:30 PM PST, March 14, 2014
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
TV: TWC SN, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves: SG: Manu Ginobili, PF: Boris Diaw, PG: Patty Mills, SG: Marco Belinelli
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Pau Gasol
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