Spurs vs. Lakers first round matchup.
Nearing the end of a rollercoaster season that included the firing of a head coach, the death of their beloved owner, numerous injuries and less than expected play from Dwight Howard a recent run of solid play finds the Lakers in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately their difficult start to the season has put them in a position that will most likely see them face the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
Here’s a breakdown of a potential Spurs vs. Lakers first round matchup.
For two clubs that have had such a strong recent playoff history its strange that they haven’t met in the playoffs in five season since the Lakers dusted the Spurs four games to one in the 2008 Western Conference finals.
The Season Series: There’s not much you can glean from the season series. They two clubs have played twice this year with the Spurs winning both, but by only a total of five points. In both games the Lakers were without significant parts of their team while the Spurs had Tony Parker in both games. In their first game, early on in the season, the Lakers lost by two at Staples Center but played without Steve Nash. In the second matchup, in San Antonio, the Lakers lost a close one, by five points, without both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. In typical Spurs fashion they’ve had balanced scoring in both games of the season series, part and parcel of their balanced minutes rotation.
Key Matchup for the Lakers: Although he’s had an extremely difficult year both in how he’s been used by Mike D’Antoni and his injury issues, Paul Gasol could be a difference maker versus the Spurs. Gasol is a tough matchup for the Spurs if he can be effective in tandem with Dwight Howard. Considering the Lakers have had their full lineup only seventeen times this year that’s a big if. The presence of Gasol adds another big body in the paint and gives Dwight Howard the ability to focus on defense and rebounding. Gasol has the ability to make the aging Tim Duncan work on both ends of the court, potentially hampering his effectiveness during a lengthy and strongly contested series.
Key Matchup for the Spurs: The big advantage for the Spurs is arguably the best coach in the league, Greg Popovich. With Mike D’Antoni still struggling to find consistency in his rotation and sets the Spurs have a significant advantage in the head coaching department. Unlike the Lakers who have significant pieces added in the offseason and have gone through two coaches this year the Spurs have perhaps the best head coaching situation in the league. Popovich has a team of savvy vets and personally picked role players that know his system and execute it perfectly.
Home Court Advantage: San Antonio is traditionally a tough place to play and the Spurs are 29-4 at home this season including an outstanding 25-10 versus teams with greater than a .500 record. For all their home success the Spurs haven’t swept the home season series versus the Lakers since the 1999-2000 season and the Lakers traditionally play as well as any opponent in San Antonio. With the Lakers collection of savvy veterans it’s hard to imagine they’ll be affected greatly by the San Antonio fans.
Health: The Lakers have had more significant injury issues than the Spurs and with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol set to return soon they’ll have their full roster for the first time in months. The key for the Lakers will be to stay healthy down the stretch and ensuring the best playoff seeding while avoiding playingtheir aging stars too many minutes. The Spurs have been largely healthy this season beyond losing Kawhi Leonard for a spell and the recent injury of Tony Parker. The Spurs expect their star point guard back earlier than expected and Parker should be 100% when the playoffs start.
Prediction: The big question is what Spurs team will show up? Will the team that destroyed the Clippers last season and looked like odds on favorites for the title show up? Or will the team that lost four straight to the Thunder show up? The Lakers have some favorable match ups and won’t be intimidated by the crowd in San Antonio. This should be an extremely tightly contested series but you have to give the advantage to the Spurs based on their overall depth and cohesiveness and advantage at the head coach position.
By: Chris Michaels