The concerns about a healthy Spurs team being able to compete with the elite teams in the NBA seem outdated now with San Antonio on an eight-game winning-streak with wins over teams like Miami and Portland. The return of Kawhi Leonard jump-started this latest surge, but it was getting the collection of the roster back that has put the Spurs in position to secure the top overall seed in the upcoming NBA playoffs.
One thing no one has been concerned about all season is San Antonio's ability to beat teams it should, which is one of the harder things to do on a consistent basis in this league. The Spurs will have another shot to pick on the bottom of the NBA barrel when it hosts the Los Angeles Lakers one night after the Lakers took on Oklahoma City. A rested Lakers team would be up against it in a matchup against the Spurs, but it will take a monumental effort by L.A. or a monumental brain fart by the Spurs for the Lakers to walk out of this game with a win.
For around a decade, the Spurs and Lakers were the model of consistency and excellence in the Western Conference. The two teams dominated the West, and most of the NBA, for nine championships this century, but bad ownership, injuries and questionable coaching has turned the Lakers into the second best team in its own city. That is how far Los Angeles has fallen; the Clippers are now the team to watch in L.A.
Kobe Bryant has announced that he will not return at all this season, which is a smart move considering the Lakers have no chance to do anything of significance this season. In fact, in an honest conversation it has to be noted that each win the Lakers pull-off from this point until the season ends is a hindrance to what should be the ultimate goal: more ping pong balls in the NBA Draft Lottery. Los Angeles has the second worst record in the West right now and could get a top-five pick in the upcoming draft if it can continue to play awful basketball. Los Angeles rebounded from one of the worst losses in franchise history to beat OKC on Sunday behind 42 points from Jordie Meeks.
Los Angeles can still score the basketball. The Lakers are 12th in the league in points per game, scoring 102 a night. However, Los Angeles is one of the worst defensive teams in basketball, which shouldn't be a surprise considering the coach is Mike D'Antoni. The Lakers allow 107.9 points per game, 29th in the league, and are 24th in total rebounding. It is easy to say that all of this has to do with Los Angeles not having Kobe or Steve Nash, but the truth is that this roster just isn't very good. The best players are old and the role players are marginal.
Pau Gasol is the lone healthy wolf left from the dominant times of the franchise. Gasol is averaging just under a double-double a game and has a PER of 19.7. No player on Los Angeles' roster has a PER over 20. Gasol leads the team with 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Small forward Nick Young is second on the team in scoring, but he is expected to miss both games of the back-to-back with OKC and San Antonio due to a knee injury, according to reports. That will leave a lot of the scoring burden on Gasol and a surging Jordie Meeks. Meeks is averaging over 15 points per game, but with Young out, Meeks has had to become the go-to perimeter scorer on the team.
Kendall Marshall is developing into a decent distributor, but he offers little threat to score. He took just three shots, missing all of them, in 27 minutes against OKC. Ryan Kelly and Wesley Johnson started alongside Gasol, Marshall and Meeks in that win against OKC. Jordan Farmar and Kent Bazemore had the biggest contributions off of the bench.
Matchup to watch: Really, the only way Los Angeles can win this game is for Meeks, or someone, to score 40-plus points. With how well the Spurs are playing right now coupled with the Lakers playing the previous night against a motivated OKC team it seems unlikely that this game stays close in the second half. The Spurs will force someone other than Gasol or Meeks to carry the offense and the Lakers don't have the horses in the stable to pull that off.
Key Bench Players
The Lakers perspective can be found here: Silver Screen and Roll
Game Prediction: Spurs by 12
Line in Vegas: Spurs by 17 1/2.
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.
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