On the heels of two tough road losses, the Lakers return home tonight to face the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Although the Lakers are just 1-7, they performed admirably on the road in their last two games, losing by just five and seven points. Meanwhile, the Spurs who sat at just 2-3 through their first five games, have won two in a row against a couple of tough Western conference foes in the Clippers and Warriors. All seems to be right again with Spurs basketball, but the Lakers will look to change that tonight.
Frontcourt: With five championships under his belt, Tim Duncan will retire as one of the ten best players of all time. Early on, he anchored the Spurs defensively, but as their key players aged, the team has taken on more of an offensive identity. With this being the case, Duncan no longer has to be the defensive force he was earlier in his career and well, he isn’t. Still, he is one of the most fundamentally sound players to ever step foot on the hardwood and he remains an effective scorer and rebounder.
As the best three point shooting team last season at 39.7%, the Spurs have a number of stretch four type players on their roster. Matt Bonner is one of them and he is expected to start tonight at the four. His presence in the first unit will serve to keep defenses honest and allow Tim Duncan to go one on one down low or Tony Parker to slash his way into the paint. While he is a limited offensive player who cannot create his own shot, the seemingly choreographed offense of the Spurs should net him a handful of open looks. Boris Diaw will back Bonner up, splitting time with him as a floor-spacing big man. Diaw himself is a dangerous offensive player, but in a different way. While he lacks Bonner’s consistency from long range, he is a much better playmaker who will create open looks for his teammates.
Starting at small forward is the reigning finals MVP and future face of Spurs basketball, Kawhi Leonard. Though he had his struggles early in the season, Leonard has rebounded nicely, averaging 19.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.7 steals in his last three games. Like the majority of Spurs players, Leonard is both cerebral and selfless. He does his damage within the framework of their offense, but is more than capable of going off offensively when his number is called. Defensively, he is their best player and we can expect him to spend some time guarding Kobe Bryant in tonight’s game.
Backcourt: Tony Parker continues to be a force at lead guard for the Spurs. He may not always garner the respect that other elite floor generals do, but make no mistake, Parker is a top flight point guard in this league. His efficiency and consistency at the position is nearly impossible to match now that he possesses a consistent mid range game. Parker can become nearly impossible to defend when he catches fire from beyond the arc, but he plays within his skill set and will aggressively look for opportunities to get into the paint and create plays.
As a former college sixth man that could have started for virtually any team in the country, Danny Green has already displayed a willingness to put the team first. Fortunately for him, Manu Ginobili already occupies the super sixth man spot for the Spurs. Accordingly, Green starts games with the first unit where his elite shooting really shines. With all the attention drawn by the Spurs’ core players in the starting lineup, Green will have plenty of opportunities to fire away from beyond the arc. He has struggled with his long range shooting through seven games this season, but boasts a 41.7% career mark. Like his teammate Leonard, Green is also a very good perimeter defender and will likely spend some time guarding Kobe Bryant as well. Manu Ginobili will be the primary guard off the bench for the Spurs as has become the norm over the past decade. Ginobili is a true triple threat player and a creative shot creator that will help keep the Spurs offense from slowing down when the starters take a seat.
Keys to Victory:
Keep Parker out of the Paint: Over the last several seasons, the Spurs offense has evolved to resemble a well-oiled machine. But make no mistake, Tony Parker is not just some cog in that machine. He is the engine that makes it go and he will look to do just that by getting into the paint and collapsing the Lakers defense over and over again. Like we saw in last years’ Finals, once the defense is out of sorts, what looks like a rehearsed sequence of passes tends to follow, resulting in an open shot or free throws. It’ll be another day on the job for Jeremy Lin who will have to do whatever he can to slow down another star player at the league’s deepest position.
Play from the Inside Out: While the Spurs have evolved into an offensive juggernaut, they have regressed defensively since their three championships in the 2000s. Tim Duncan is still a great player, but even he can only do so much to combat his declining athleticism. Fortunately for the Lakers, he remains the Spurs’ best interior defender. And with Tiago Splitter sidelined, the Spurs will give a handful of minutes to the combination of Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw. Bonner lacks the physical tools to match up with the Lakers front line and Diaw is an undersized big man. If the Lakers establish Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer down low early, the rest of the game will open up for them as the Spurs will have to send defenders to help.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 8.5-point underdogs against the Spurs according to Sportsbook.ag.
San Antonio Spurs (4-3) at Los Angeles Lakers (1-7)
7:00 PM PST, November 14, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Spurs Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Matt Bonner
C: Tim Duncan
Key Reserves: SG: Manu Ginobili, PF: Boris Diaw
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Practice Report: Nick Young Update, Jeremy Lin’s Comfort Zone