San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
April 14, 2013, 8:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: NBATV - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
It's almost that time of year again, Spurs fans. We're a week away from the postseason, and it's so close that I can almost taste it. However, we still have to survive three more regular season games. The Spurs clinched a top 2 seed in the Western Conference on Friday thanks to their win over the Kings and the help the Mavericks provided by taking out the Nuggets. So the only thing left to play for is a slim shot at the number one seed which the Spurs can secure if they win out their string while the Oklahoma City Thunder lose either one of their two remaining games against the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks. It seems unlikely that the Thunder would drop either of those contests, but the Spurs still have to get into playoff shape and work out a few kinks, so why not give it the old college try?
Tonight's game is against the Los Angeles Lakers, who are trying to stay in the playoff picture and snag the 8th seed in the West. The Lakers were deprived of their fearless leader on Friday night when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in one of the more heart-breaking sequences of the season. I've never been much of a Kobe fan, but hearing that he suffered that kind of setback this late in his career was tough. He's been a great player in this league for so long, and even if you don't like him, you have to respect him. Hopefully he can come back soon and return to being an otstanding player.
The Lakers will most likely come out with a new energy, rally around Kobe's horrible injury, and find a way to compete with a San Antonio team that's shorthanded for a bevy of different reasons; from Manu Ginobili's strained hamstring, to Boris Diaw's back surgery and Stephen Jackson being waived. The Lakers' strategy should now revolve around the post presences of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, both of whom have come on strong recently. In this month, Gasol has been superb while averaging 19.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and 6.7 apg. Howard has averaged 20.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and has been better on defense lately as he's showing signs of the dominant form he's been trying to regain since he underwent surgery on his back last year. These guys are playing at a level that they weren't even close to in the previous matchups with the Spurs this year. So corralling both big men will be a challenge.
It will be key for the Spurs to run things through Tony Parker, who's only played in one game since Pop sat him to recover from his ankle injury and sore neck. Allowing him to regain his timing while leading the starting unit is important, because the West is deep and you can't take any playoff series for granted. (Unless the Spurs end up playing against the Lakers or Jazz in the first round. I'd give you permission to take those matchups for granted.) Expect Parker to produce early and often as he continues to find his groove. He went for 22 points and 10 assists against a porous Sacramento Kings defense, and he is likely to do similar damage against a Lakers team that has struggled to guard the pick-and-roll all season long. It's nice for San Antonio to have a good distributor on the floor again, and hopefully Tony's play-making ability can jump-start the Spurs offense, which has struggled without him and the recovering Manu Ginobili.
One interesting thing to keep an eye on is the lineup combinations Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni will use. D'Antoni is notorious for his short rotations, but without either member of his starting backcourt (Steve Nash has been out because of an injured hip) I expect him to open things up a bit and tinker with different combinations. They'll have to change much of their offense to feature Gasol and Howard without Kobe or Nash on the floor, and I think Gasol will be used more as a distributor out of the high post.
Lakers perspective can be found here: Silver Screen & Roll
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Game Prediction: The Lakers will come out with some gusto due to the loss of their star, and control the tempo for much of the game. However, Duncan and Parker will prove to be too much in a late game battle. Spurs by 2.
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.