San Antonio suffered a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Paul George and company Monday night, and they’ll have no time to recover as they square off against the other Los Angeles franchise less than 24 hours later. The Clippers stifled the Spurs with their suffocating defense and beautiful ball movement, and the Lakers will bring another helping of elite two-way basketball on Tuesday night.
The Silver and Black have played 24 games decided by two or fewer possessions this season but come away with a mediocre 10-14 record in those contests. As for Los Angeles, they’ve participated in 11 such games and succeeded to a tune of 8-3. Oh, and they’ve lost just two games to teams under .500 all year long.
LeBron James and the Lakeshow sit atop the Western Conference standings with 37 wins and are on pace to win 63 games. The Spurs, well, they’re on track to register their first losing season since 1997. While these two storied organizations may be headed in opposite directions, it’s always an entertaining matchup when they match up.
San Antonio Spurs (22-27) versus Los Angeles Lakers (37-11)
February 4, 2020 | 9:00 PM CT
Watch: TNT | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Lakers Injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (Knee - Out)
Putting Bodies on the Big Men
Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard had their way with San Antonio in the first go-round. They combined for 39 points and 24 rebounds on 17-of-27 shooting, and thoroughly outworked their Spurs counterparts on the glass.
Although the good guys won the final rebounding battle 47-46, that wasn’t the case when it came to their big men. Strictly isolating the boards to power forwards and centers, San Antonio was out-rebounded 30-19 despite their players logging six more minutes.
Failing to box out and pursue rebounds have cost the Silver and Black a few games this season, and Los Angeles ranks 5th in the league in second-chance points (14.6). Their frontcourt has the athleticism to create extra offensive possessions, and the Spurs won’t get away with passively waiting for boards.
The seldom-used Chimezie Metu is the only big with enough bounce to jump with Davis, Howard, and JaVale McGee, but they all out-muscle and out-weigh the second-year forward by at least 28 pounds. Everyone will need to put a body on their man if San Antonio wants to minimize second-chance opportunities.
Taking Care of the Rock
The Spurs commit the fifth-fewest turnovers per game (12.9) in the league, and the Lakers score the third-most points off turnovers per game (18.9). One team excels at protecting the ball, one team specializes in taking it away, and something is bound to give on Tuesday night.
San Antonio is 14-12 when they commit less than 12 turnovers this season, and 8-14 when they meet or exceed that number. While it may feel insignificant, that small discrepancy in winning percentage could be the difference between a 23rd consecutive postseason appearance and the first trip to the lottery since Tim Duncan.
Of course, Los Angeles won’t make life easy for the good guys. They lead the league in blocks per game (7.1) and trail only the Bulls and Raptors in steals per game (8.5). Though the Silver and Black have a proven track record of taking care of the ball under Gregg Popovich, they get sloppy from time to time against longer defenders.
Playing Plus Defenders
As their 106.9 points per game (7th) on 48.4% shooting (2nd) shows, the Lakers are home to one of the most efficient and high-powered offenses in the association. They don’t need any assistance putting points on the board, and San Antonio shouldn’t make their job easier by handing heavy minutes to subpar defenders.
This kind of goes without saying, but if you have elite stoppers, playing them is your best chance at holding your opponent in check. That’s why it’s strange to see Bryn Forbes has played the third-most minutes on the Spurs when capable two-way guards like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV are on the roster.
Sure, you may lose some theoretical spacing, but every one of the previously mentioned guards shoots at least 35% from beyond the arc, and only Murray owns a lower percentage than Forbes. I realize Bryn takes more three-point attempts per game than that trio combined, still, that doesn’t make up for his inability to stay in front of his man.
The undersized guard is routinely beat both off the dribble and off-ball, and he lacks the physical tools to recover on almost every defensive sequence. He will almost definitely start his 48th game of the year, but coach Popovich would probably benefit from limiting the three-point specialist to a smaller role.
You can’t pin San Antonio’s subpar team defense solely on Bryn Forbes, and he is undoubtedly one of the top undrafted success stories since the turn of the millennium. That being said, there’s little sense in spending upwards of 25 minutes each game on a one-dimensional defensive liability.