Scouting the Lakers: Kobe returns

By Quixem Ramirez

Offensive rating: Spurs – 110.1 (1st), Lakers – 106.1 (11th)Defensive rating: Spurs – 103.3 (11th), Lakers – 103.9 (13th)Pace: Spurs – 92.6 (7th), Lakers – 90.5 (20th)Time: 8:30 p.m.TV: KENS, ESPNRadio: WOAI-AM 1200, KCOR-AM 1350

Mar 6, 2011; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) is defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the first half at the AT

Three things to watch

Kobe Bryant. In two games against the Lakers, the Spurs have dished out 27.5 assists per game and have shot 47.6 percent from behind the arc. The Lakers, too, have passed the ball well (25.5 assists) and they seem to be benefiting significantly from the multitude of rebounds they grab (58.1 percent). Kobe’s absence, in reality, might have made them an abnormally tough matchup for San Antonio. Kobe’s propensity to take the long 2-pointer — up to a career-high 7.8 attempts from 16-23 feet, according to HoopData — can either make the Lakers offense unstoppable or, more likely, turn them into an inefficient team that relies on one player to create in one-on-five situations. Kobe still converts these shot at an above-average rate but when you have the capability of dumping the ball into Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at just about any time of the game, the long 2-pointers become less appealing and a detriment to the team as a whole. In four games against the Spurs last year, the Lakers averaged 5.7 points per 100 possessions less with Kobe on the court than when he was relegated to the bench. Defensively, the Lakers were 13.3 points worse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue tonight.

Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. As expected, Gregg Popovich made an adjustment with the intention of alleviating the Spurs interior defense. Blair did not play (thankfully) and Pop went with the under-utilized tandem of Duncan and Splitter. Poor floor spacing aside, the move was definitely one that had to be made because of the havoc the Lakers’ bigs are capable of if we do not have solid defenders on the floor. Bynum and Gasol still played well (37 points, 14 rebounds) but the Spurs defense did just enough to allow their offense to take over. Matt Bonner (23:32) and Boris Diaw (18:57) also benefited from Blair’s absence. Keep an eye on Bonner against the Lakers as well. Bonner’s ability to space the floor may prove to be just as valuable, if not more so, than Splitter’s size down low.

Preparing for the playoffs. For the Spurs, tonight’s game might serve as our final postseason tune up. The Spurs have four games yet to play and three of those games will be against teams desperate to tank (Cleveland, Golden State and Portland). The Lakers will have two games remaining, including one interesting matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Wow. This season has been a blur.

Final verdict. Spurs by five. Kobe’s return is a welcome one and I think Popovich will make the correct in-game adjustments necessary to knock the Lakers out.