The San Antonio Spurs (43-16) are sitting atop the Western Conference momentarily, as the Spurs demolished the Golden State Warriors on Monday, while getting some help from the Los Angeles Clippers who defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder as well on Monday.
The Spurs have won three games in a row, but tonight they face the Los Angeles Lakers, who were the last team the Spurs lost to in dominating fashion at home.
The Lakers are once again without superstar Kobe Bryant, but the team has been improving with a four game win streak and going 8-2 in their last 10 games. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions, and Metta World Peace have all stepped up their game, as they’re attacking teams from all sorts of areas on the floor.
Before previewing this game, it’s important to note that this could be a major guessing game in anticipation as to which players Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will play against the Lakers.
There are two theories; 1) Coach Popovich could play what should be a full semi-rested team, as none of the starters played more than 20-minutes against the Warriors or 2) He could rest the “Big Three” and use them against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, in what should be an easier win to grasp.
Case No. 60: Los Angeles Lakers (39-22)
- Andrew Bynum – 18.6 points (13.3 FGA), Pau Gasol – 17.4 points (14.1 FGA), Ramon Sessions – 13.6 points (9.1 FGA), Matt Barnes – 7.7 points (6 FGA), Metta World Peace – 7.4 points (7 FGA). I’m interested in seeing if Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter will spend more time defending Bynum and Gasol as opposed to DeJuan Blair, similar to how the situation looked in San Antonio in the second half last week.
Shooting/Posting High Percentages
- Andrew Bynum (56%), Pau Gasol (51%), Ramon Sessions (50%), Josh McRoberts (47%), Matt Barnes (45%). The thing I noticed about Sessions is he doesn't really take bad shots. He scores within the offense and when the opportunity presents itself. If Tony Parker plays, he’ll probably come out much more aggressive than he was last week against the Lakers, when he was held to just four points.
Three-Point marks men
- Metta World Peace (5 x 3PT FGA – 30%), Steve Blake (2.9 x 3PT FGA – 32%), Matt Barnes (2.1 x 3PT FGA – 34%). The Lakers shot an uncharacteristic 48% from beyond the arc last week against the Spurs. That was attributed to more open shots for their perimeter shooters because the Spurs were having so much trouble trying to limit Bynum and Gasol in the paint.
Gets to the free throw line
- Andrew Bynum (5.7 FTA – 68%), Ramon Sessions (4.9 FTA – 74%), Pau Gasol (4 FTA – 78%)
Enforcers in the paint
- Andrew Bynum (12.2 rebounds), Pau Gasol (10.5 rebounds), Matt Barnes (5.4 rebounds). The last time the Lakers outrebounded the Spurs 60-33, Bynum had 30 rebounds by himself. If Blair plays major minutes, I anticipate Bynum having another big night on the boards.
- Ramon Sessions (6.9 assists), Pau Gasol (3.5 assists), Steve Blake (3.2 assists)
- Metta World Peace (1 steal)
Denying the Rim
- Andrew Bynum (2 blocks), Pau Gasol (1.3 blocks). The "tall trees" the Lakers have in the paint are worrisome for the run-and-gun Spurs. The Lakers’ height affects players like Parker, Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Manu Ginobili from attacking the rim. While their length can also spell trouble for Duncan’s jump shots at the elbow, and Splitter and Duncan’s posting ability.
Offense vs. Offense
- 1. Points: Spurs (102.1) – Lakers (97.1) = Spurs
- 2. Assists: Spurs (22.6) – Lakers (22.2) = Spurs
- 3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (47.2%) – Lakers (45.8%) = Spurs
- 4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (38.9%) – Lakers (32.5%) = Spurs
- 5. Turnovers: Spurs (13.1) – Lakers (14.5) = Spurs
Offensive Leader: Spurs 5-0
Though the Spurs lead in every offensive category, they have to find a way to execute and stay efficient in the half court. The Lakers are too disciplined to get caught up in the run-and-gun style of play, so they hurt the Spurs by slowing down the pace by using their half court offense.
Defense vs. Defense
- 1. Opponent scoring: Spurs (96.3) – Lakers (94.9) = Lakers
- 2. Opponent shooting: Spurs (45%) – Lakers (43%) = Lakers
- 3. Opponent 3PT shooting: Spurs (36%) – Lakers (35%) = Lakers
- 4. Rebounds: Spurs (42.6) – Lakers (46.3) = Lakers
- 5. Personal Fouls: Spurs (17.4) – Lakers (17.0) = Lakers
Defensive Leader: Lakers 5-0
Until Bryant returns, the height issue will still exist because the Spurs simply don’t have the length in the post to stop Gasol and Bynum from getting over 20 looks in the paint. When Bryant returns, he’ll be taking a lot of those shots away from Bynum and Gasol, which in favor could help the Spurs’ defense in the future.
As mentioned above, it’s too hard to tell which lineup coach Popovich will use. In my opinion, he should just rest the core players, play them against the Kings, and wait until Friday to throw his full lineup against the Lakers, if Bryant is healthy by then.
Even if he plays the full squad tomorrow and they win or lose, the Lakers are still a much more different team with Bryant on the floor. The way I see it, Bryant is like what Rudy Gay is to the Memphis Grizzlies. Gay takes the majority of the Grizzlies’ shots, which limits Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. In turn, the Spurs are 4-0 against the Grizzlies with Gay this season, but were defeated in last year’s playoffs without Gay.
Either way, the Spurs’ bench is very deep. The team scored 71-points on the Warriors on Monday, that was enough to have beaten the Charlotte Bobcats who only scored 67-points on Monday. But depth can be cancelled out when you lose your game plan, like the Lakers did to the Spurs last week.
The advantage the Lakers had in the paint was just too much. Granted, they did shoot a high percentage that they normally don’t shoot, but the Spurs’ glaring weakness of being able to stop big teams is still apparent. The Spurs could try speeding up the tempo by using a center or power forward with a small guard and wing lineup, but it’ll be a test to the Lakers to see if they can hold their pace in the half court, or get caught up in the running-and-gunning.
The question comes down to this, is it worth playing a grinding game on Tuesday, or just waiting until Wednesday when the Spurs will play a team with a style similar to theirs.
Only coach Pop has the answer.
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