The Spurs will win if: They can prevent the Lakers from snaring extra possessions via the offensive glass and from the charity stripe. Habitually one of the most proficient defensive rebounding teams — San Antonio finished first in defensive rebounding percentage last season (.760) — the Spurs will need to limit the frontcourt trio of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill from imposing their will. The three alone are averaging 10.3 offensive rebounds per game.
In addition to their offensive rebounding — only the Denver Nuggets have a higher offensive rebounding percentage (.358) — the Lakers are second in free throws per field goal attempt (.282) behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. Howard, Hill and Kobe Bryant are each averaging more than 6.9 free throws per 36 minutes. Bryant, whose shooting at a career-high level on 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws, is enjoying a stretch of searing offensive efficiency.
The Spurs won’t win if: Though former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t expected to make his Lakers debut until Friday at the earliest, it will be interesting to watch the Lakers pick-and-roll attack going forward. Currently, in possessions in which the ball handler finished the pick-and-roll, the Lakers are scoring 0.65 points per possession, good for 22nd in the league.
This may have to do with the Princeton offense, a motion-based offense that isn’t conducive to prolific pick-and-roll play; more likely, the absence of Steve Nash has attributed to the depreciating pick-and-roll game. Nash scored 0.92 PPP in the pick-and-roll last season, knocking down 53.6 percent of his attempts, and once he recovers from his injury, and once D’Antoni infuses the team with an offense that tailors more to the exploits of Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers will be markedly better. For the time being, however, they won’t be a big threat to attack the Spurs’ defense. Chris Duhon, with reserve point guard Steve Blake ruled out with an abdominal strain, simply doesn’t pose the same matchup problems.
X-Factor: It’s a bit weird to list Bryant, a 14-time All-Star, as a X-Factor. But the numbers support this designation. The Lakers are, through seven games, substantially worse without Bryant. About 42.9 points per 100 possessions worse, that is. In the 12 minutes per game that Bryant sits, the Lakers have turned the ball over on 16.7 percent of their possessions while shooting at a historically low rate (.449 true shooting percentage) according to NBA.com/Stats.