Offensive rating: Spurs – 109.6 (2nd), Lakers – 105.9 (11th)
Defensive rating: Spurs – 103.5 (12th), Lakers – 103.8 (13th)
Pace: Spurs – 92.4 (8th), Lakers – 90.4 (21st)
Time: 7:30 p.m
Radio: WOAI-AM 1200, KCOR-AM 1350
Life at the top of the mountain is tough. While many teams would embrace it, Gregg Popovich could care less about win streaks or public perception. He never has before, and why start now? He shamelessly used halftime as a mini practice session to go over drills and plays for a Big Three-less Spurs squad. But somehow, San Antonio’s role players and backups stayed competitive, but were overpowered by a much bigger Utah team, who are fighting for a playoff spot.
Now the Spurs look ahead to their first meeting with an old foe; the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. However, the Lakers will be missing Kobe Bryant, but that does not mean the Spurs still can’t send a message to the Pacific Division leader.
Three things to watch.
Banging with the “big boys”. Utah’s massive front court posed a problem for San Antonio. While the acquisition of Boris Diaw is a great addition, the Spurs are still a bit undersized compared to teams like the Jazz, Grizzlies, and Lakers. And some may not agree with Popovich’s decision to leave the Big Three on their brief trip to Utah, but Duncan needs fresh legs to stay with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol down low. The Lakers’ main big men have formed a nice one-two punch, and all bets are off if they have a big game. Utah took advantage of the undersized Dejuan Blair, but by no means should San Antonio shy away from their post game. Life will be a lot easier if the Spurs can operate in the low post consistently, as well as crash the boards. The Lakers are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, and taking away and gaining more opportunities will be huge.
Heating up from deep. San Antonio has the best three-point shooting percentage in the league. It is imperative the Spurs can hit the wide open shots, and keep Los Angeles on their heels. During their latest back-to-back with the Jazz, the Spurs shot six-percent below their season average, hitting a mere 13-40. In particular Ginobili struggled going 1-6 Sunday night, and with two days off, hopefully Manu can get the entire team raining three’s tonight.
Parker versus Sessions. The Lakers may look a bit different. Kobe will be sidelined with tenosynovitis (inflammation) in his left shin and public enemy No. 1 (at least in 2004) will not be bringing the ball up the court for Los Angeles. Instead, Tony Parker will go head-to-head with Ramon Sessions. In his first fifteen games with the Lakers, Sessions has averaged 13.7 points and 7.3 assists. While Sessions has been an adequate guard for the Lakers, Los Angeles has struggled since his acquisition, going 9-6 since Ramon’s arrival. Going up against an MVP candidate guard in Parker will be a tall order for Sessions, but if Sessions can create his shot, San Antonio better watch out. Sessions is shooting 51.5% in his time with the Lakers, so this could be an interesting match-up.
Final verdict. Spurs by six. Take away Kobe, and the Lakers offense is fairly average. Defensively, the Spurs should be able to hang with Los Angeles, and if they can knock down a few treys at the other end of the floor, it will be a long night for the Lake Show.