After their loss to the Hornets on Monday, Manu Ginobili was gracious enough to say that his San Antonio Spurs (27-10) must play better against the Lakers (15-19), a team, he says, "got heart" and "play hard", in order for them to keep their 10-game winning streak at home alive. Not sure which Lakers team and what season he's pertaining to, but it's good to hear teams still fear the purple and gold.
All kidding aside, Ginobili was doing what he's supposed to do as a sportsman and a leader of his team. The Lakers and us Laker fans don't need any reminder that every team in the NBA almost always bring their A-game when the Lakers come to town or just how pathetic our team has been playing so far this season. But the fact remains that the Lakers must now win at least 30 of their remaining 48 games to qualify for a post-season run. With Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out for who knows how long, that is going to be a task for the ages for this franchise.
After starting the game with bounce in their steps last night in Houston, the Lakers couldn't sustain their energy and team focus the rest of the way to earn themselves a win that could've injected a spark that they'll be alright without their bigs. But looking at the positives in that game, the younger, less-utilized players showed that they care about winning and willing to do whatever they can to help the team win. The team also, at least, had the concertive focus that they needed to come out swinging from the get-go in order for them to have the chance to get the victory. They have to do that again tonight.
The Lakers and Spurs are familiar rivals who have won titles more than any other team in the league in the past 12 years, and Gregg Popovich and Mike D'Antoni have gone at one another in the playoffs before. So, there's really nothing cute needed in this matchup other than whichever team can grind it out more than the other.
If the Lakers are to win this game and hope to keep above water until they get their starting frontcourt back, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash must elevate their game even more. Bryant has done an incredible job at keeping his body and conditioning at top level because he has learned over the course of his 17-year career how to maintain his energy by picking his time to play defense. That is why you often see him communicate to his teammates by pointing at his man for anyone to cover him and get caught not guarding his man behind the 3-point line because he doesn't want to spend energy shadowing his man.
It's a catch-22 for Kobe. Should he waste energy on defense early and not have it late in the game or should he sacrifice his D so that he'll have the legs to close out the game offensively? At this point, he may have to do both.
Nash did look to score more against the Rocket last night getting a season-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. But having Bryant as the only other player the team can rely on in putting up points, Steve may have to eat some of his assists to shoot more tonight.
The bottom line is the Lakers need to lean on their best talent available to carry them more than ever while the entire team bring the energy and effort necessary for them to win games. It won't be easy, especially when the rest of the league salivate at the chance of kicking the Lakers while they're down. The alarm has gone off inside for the Lakers. Right now, it's just a question of how much fight they have left in them.
The Lakers are 5-10 on the road and 2-3 away from Staples Center in their last 5 games. The Spurs are 14-2 at the AT&T Center and have taken 3 of the last 5 meetings in their building against the Lakers. This is the 2nd of only 3 meetings between these teams and won't see each other again until April 14th at Staples Center. The Lakers lost last year's season series, 2-1.
Matchup of the Game
Steve Nash vs. Tony Parker: Savvy vs. Speed. These guys have faced each other too many times to know there's really nothing else to do but bring it. Parker obviously has a number of advantages going for him but let's see if Nash can bring his bag of tricks to pull this matchup closer for the Lakers.
Keys for the Game
> Maintain Energy: The Lakers will most likely come out swinging again tonight despite being the 2nd game of a back-to-back. They have to bottle that energy each passing quarter if they want a chance at an upset.
> DEFENSE!: This is going to be a permanent key for the Lakers until they can prove they're a team to be reckoned with each game in this department. And just to put it out there, the Spurs are 3rd in the league in scoring (104.9 per game).
> Prove It: The embarassment in losing in Darius Morris's voice in his post-game interview say that even the young and less-utilized players are sick of being walked on by every team in the league. But as they say, talk is cheap.
Tonight @ San Antonio Spurs
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)/ESPN (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Steve Blake (abdomen), Pau Gasol (concussion), Jordan Hill (right hip) and Dwight Howard (right shoulder) are all out.