Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The San Antonio Spurs host a star-studded Lakers team that struggles to meet .500
San Antonio Spurs vs Los Angeles LakersAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
January 9, 2012, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: ESPN - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The Spurs host the Los Angeles Lakers in a game that features 7 Hall of Famer players and one that is likely to yield an exciting, high-scoring match, yet its ultimate importance may not be as historically relevant.
The Lakers pulled off a dream offseason by getting Steve Nash from their former rival Phoenix Suns, as well as trading for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in a four-team trade. Many, including some Spurs fans, crowed them the favorites for the 2013 Larry O'Brien trophy; however, other sections of Spurs fandom were skeptical. Count me in the latter section, as I felt that despite the big names on the roster they lacked one crucial part: chemistry.
Their previously great title hopes diminished after a 0-8 preseason and a 0-3 hole to start the season, after which head coach Mike Brown was relieved of his duties (an early season injury to Nash didn't help, either). Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff took over in the interim during a 5 game home stand, during which the Spurs escaped with an 84-82 victory off a Danny Green 3. Although there were rumors that Phil Jackson was considering returning to the Lakers sideline (how could he not, it's the most stacked Lakers team since 2004!) the Lakers (read: Jim Buss) decided to hire Mike "Pringles" D'Antoni as their head coach, much to the relief of Spurs fans.
Ultimately, not only would hiring D'Antoni prove to be one of the Lakers' biggest mistakes, but one that may knock them out of playoff contention altogether. And having both their prized offseason acquisitions dealing with bad backs doesn't help, D'Antoni does not and will not fix the ultimate problems of their team: depth and defense. One side effect of breaking the bank on big name stars is that it leaves few resources for the reserves, whose presence in relieving the stars is an understated component of the game. With the Lakers capped out they still managed to net Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, who in theory would help space the floor for Nash and D'Antoni's offense. However, Jamison has been knocked out of the rotation (despite the consensus that he would be the Lakers' sixth man) and Meeks has not become more efficient despite Nash's return. D'Antoni's preference for running a short rotation with stars aged 38, 34. 32, and 26 will only worsen their health concerns, which may leave them no energy left for the later run..
Despite the Lakers being an efficient offensive team, they stink on defense despite Howard manning the middle. They rank a cool 6th in Offensive Rating, aided by their good eFG% (which is 8th, thanks to Kobe having an efficient year and Nash stabilizing things), great ORB% (5th, having Jordan Hill and Howard as their two best bigs helps) and good FT/FGA (2nd behind OKC; it helps that they get teams in the bonus early with Hack-a-Dwight and Kobe being an elite foul-drawer) despite a not so stellar TOV% at 19th. However, their 20th ranked Defensive rating , whilst not fouling teams a lot (4th in Opp FT/FGA) and getting the ball back after a forced miss well (13th in DRB%), struggles to contain good shot attempts (16th in Opp eFG%) or force the opponent into empty possessions (28th in Opp TOV%). And all this despite their schedule getting tougher after 2012 ended, with a stretch beginning with a home loss to the 76ers (whom the Spurs and Thunder, both bona fide title contenders, blew out at home), that simply says that they may not really be contenders. After all, elite teams win a high percentage at home, and at worst have a .500 record on the road; the Lakers are struggling to meet .500 at home alone.
And all this while Tim Duncan channels his inner Highlander and outlasts all the other elite big men of the league. Remember when it was a big deal when he'd go against Dirk Nowitzki or Amar'e Stoudemire? He's still an elite big man nowadays, and he's gone from being snubbed for the 2012 All-Star Game to being arguably being the best big man overall.
Injury Update: Dwight Howard is out indefinitely with a torn labrum, while Pau Gasol will miss at least a week due to a concussion. Backup big man Jordan Hill will not be traveling with the team due to a hip injury.
Lakers perspective can be found here: Silver Screen and Roll
Game Prediction: Spurs by 6 in a game where the Lakers fail to get key defensive stops yet again.
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As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.