I arose from slumber on Thursday to see the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Houston Rockets. That means, we get to see the Lakers elevate to the seventh seed in the West to face the San Antonio Spurs. First, I’m mildly disappointed in Houston for allowing that to happen, mainly because Houston could’ve created an interesting series with San Antonio. No matter. The Los Angeles Lakers also provide some intrigue to San Antonio, but can they truly beat them after a roller-coaster of a season? Let’s look at both teams to see if the Lakers can upset the Spurs, or if San Antonio has this series in hand.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are the machine. For the past 15 years, San Antonio have dominated the Western Conference with Tim Duncan and other players around him. Eventually, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker settled in and created the team we see today. The Spurs rank 7th overall in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. They aren’t the same Spurs, but they seem like it. Around the big trio, guys like Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, and Boris Diaw just fill in the holes to keep the team afloat. Over the past two months, the Spurs seem to have taken a step back (mainly because of Ginobili out), but as the playoffs loom, look for the Spurs to be the same dangerous team.
Can San Antonio get Ginobili back? Out with an hamstring injury, the Spurs simply cannot expect to advance past round two with him. With him, I think San Antonio could make the Western Conference Finals, but without him? I think San Antonio is ripe for the picking against a Los Angeles Clippers team. Sadly, Ginobili has been battling injury for most of the season. Could the duo of Leonard and Green hold the fort down until Ginobili returns? Sure. However, if San Antonio can’t rely on Ginobili for twenty-five minutes a game after this round, the Spurs could be in trouble.
Player To Watch: Kawhi Leonard
The connection between the aging Duncan and Ginobili is Leonard, who in his second season, taken a huge step forward for the Spurs. He’s not the elite defender many make him out to be, but he’s one of the underrated offensive players in the league. For San Antonio, he’ll be placed on James Harden and will see some defensive action against Chandler Parsons. Where Leonard should fear Houston is his ability to shoot from the corners. If Leonard could continue his scoring totals, while providing moderate defense against Harden on the perimeter, the Spurs could have this series in a cakewalk.
Los Angeles Lakers
The most tantalizing team this season. From acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, to a sluggish start, the Los Angeles Lakers provided the most storylines this season; and it isn’t even close. Now, after Kobe Bryant went out for a season-ending injury, the Lakers finally got into the playoffs off the backs of Dwight Howard and “Trade him, don’t trade him” Pau Gasol. Even with the large disappointment of the season, the Lakers fan base and organization seems to feel like this is a fresh start, and against a familiar foe like San Antonio, the Lakers look to upset San Antonio, and get to the second round.
The role players have to step up with Bryant out for the season. The candidates? Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, and Earl Clark. Blake gives Los Angeles a huge boost on the offensive end with his three-point shooting, Meeks doubles that three-point shooting dose, while adding a bit of slashing, and Clark is the dimensional player who can score, rebound, and move the ball around the perimeter. Clark is interesting because he can give Los Angeles another fluid athlete who can get baskets in the interior at the small forward position.
Player To Watch: Steve Nash
He’s never been 100% all season, and yet, I expect him to be back for at least game two of this series. The Lakers need someone who can run this offense, and Nash is perfect. With constant double teams against Dwight and Pau, I can envision the Nash getting a ton of open looks from three, and that could change the entire look of the series. Nash only played 50 games this season, only played two minutes in the last nine games, and yet, Nash could be one of the biggest X-factors of any series.
Prediction: Spurs in 6: I think the Lakers will fight in this series, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they pushed San Antonio to seve games, but I’m going Spurs for many reasons. The first is the lack of defense in Los Angeles. The Lakers finished 16th in the league in defensive efficiency, while San Antonio finished 7th in offensive efficiency. The second reason is Tony Parker. Los Angeles struggles to defend point guards, and Parker has played like one of the top 10 players in the league. Not only Parker can tear up the Laker defense, but Patty Mills, and maybe….maybe Gary Neal. I think Howard won’t go out without winning a game for the Lakers, but in the end, I think San Antonio will win at the end of the day.