Western Conference 1st Round: Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

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This series is a very intriguing match-up for two reasons. 1. The history behind this match-up is pretty great. In the past decade these two teams have been the two best in the West boasting Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobli, and David Robinson among other greats in their primes. Although these two teams right now are significantly different, it’s still interesting to see these two uniforms going up against each other so early in the playoffs. 2. It’ll be interesting to see how the Lakers deal without Kobe Bryant on the court in a long 7 game series. It’ll be interesting to see if Dwight can step up and be the guy for the Lakers like he’s wanted to be all season. So, let’s break it down.

How Los Angeles Wins:

The Lakers win if the perimeter guys on the Lakers step up. They all have to step up offensively to take the pressure of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Without Kobe, the Lakers lack guys on the perimeter to create their own shot. They need Steve Blake to keep playing like he has in late April. He averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists per game in the month of April with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant out. He needs to keep hitting threes and distributing the ball. I think Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks really have to step up in this series to take pressure off of Dwight and Pau down low. They have to be able to catch and shoot but also create their own shot. Dwight and Pau can’t do everything. They’re not going to score every time and what if the Spurs decide to throw a double at Dwight if he’s being guarded by Tim? The shooters are going to have to be ready, and the perimeter guys need to be there to provide a scoring boost. They both need to step up, especially Dwight because he’s wanted to be the guy for a long time and now he’s here so it’s time to show up. Dwight Howard is getting more touches now that he’s the main focus of the offense and he’s responded well since Kobe got injured. He’s been more active recently defensively and vocally with his teammates and he has to continue that through this series.  I think the Lakers should utilize Pau Gasol in the high post when he’s on the floor at the same time as Dwight to give more room to Dwight but also to give Pau opportunities to distribute the ball – his best skill. If he’s there seeing the whole floor and sending it out to shooters, or lobbing to Dwight down low the Lakers are a stronger team. He also needs touches down low when Dwight is out, he’s been more active lately as well because he’s been more involved. Essentially this series could be a coming out party for them in a way. This whole season they’ve been dealing with injuries – Pau with the foot and Dwight with his shoulder. They’ve also had to share the ball with Nash and Kobe the entire season, by their standards they haven’t played great. They can really start fresh here and pound the Spurs’ front-court down low. I think this series is a big opportunity for Earl Clark to show what he’s worth to the Lakers for the future. He’s been great all season but now with more responsibilities with Kobe out it’ll be interesting to see how he responds.

The Lakers also have to be consistent defensively. They’ve been shaky all year but now is the time to really nail down their rotations to keep Tony out of the paint and to get to all the shooters that San Antonio has. The Spurs share the ball better than every team in the league and the Lakers have to be ready to move all around the court and get to everybody. The Lakers are also going to have a handful with Tim Duncan. Along with Kobe this season, he has really been the epitome of #vino. He’s defied father time and has averaged just under 18 and 10 this season for the Spurs. He’s going to give Pau a hard time down low, and the Lakers have to take away his free-throw line jumper off of pick and pops and try make it hard for him in the post.  They need to stay healthy as well. They’ve been killed by injuries all season and now with a depleted roster they can’t afford anybody else to go down. They’re a tooth hanging by the thread and if someone gets injured that tooth is falling right out.

How San Antonio Wins:

San Antonio wins if they can stay out of foul trouble down low. Dwight Howard is a beast down low and will try to abuse both Splitter and Duncan in the post. If he gets them in foult trouble early they’ll be taken out of the game. Additionally, they have to make it hard for him and Pau down low. The Lakers lack firepower on the perimeter and don’t have many guys who can create their own shot or hit open shots consistently. If they take either Pau or Dwight out of the game I’m confident they can sweep this series. Cut one head off the double-headed dragon and they win the series. There is so much pressure on the twin towers offensively in this series so if you can limit ones production it cuts of the rest of the team. They have to crash the boards as well, Los Angeles grabs 11 offensive rebounds a game with Pau and Dwight and they can’t allow them to create extra possessions on the glass. Tony Parker will have his way with the Lakers on the perimeter as their guards are slow and lacking in defensive intensity. I think three point shooting could really be the dagger for San Antonio if they want to win the series. I think both teams are going to score down low, Tony Parker will do his thing but if San Antonio can knock L.A out from downtown they could really win the series with ease. They shot 40% against the Lakers so far this season and that could really be key especially because the Lakers are very shaky from beyond the arc. That means guys like Danny Green, Matt Bonner, even Kawhi Leonard have to be ready to step up on the big stage on knock down shots. I think Leonard could have a huge impact on this series as well. He can be really impactful getting to the basket, hitting the open three and locking down on the perimeter. He could very well take Clark out of the series and that could be huge considering Clark is probably the best perimeter scorer for the Lakers now that Nash and Kobe are out. The Spurs will also win with their bench. They’re bench has been extremely effective all year at coming in and giving the veterans of the 1st unit a break and keeping up the intensity. The Lakers are a very thin team and that boost of energy off the bench for the Spurs could kill the Lakers. Above all else they need to stay healthy and fresh. They’re an old team and especially Tim Duncan who’s 36 and bound to get bruised down low by Dwight, so not only for this series but for the long term the Spurs need to stay in tact. The Spurs have the advantage of experience in this series as well. The Lakers had been working all year to try and make it work and now without Kobe and Nash on the floor, they’re bound to be discombobulated offensively. The Spurs are extremely well coached and now what they do offensively and defensively they have to take advantage of the Lakers inconsistent defensive rotations.

Who Will Win?

I’m going with the Spurs on this one. I don’t think the Lakers have enough going for themselves besides their low post offense and when that’s not working, where do they turn? They can’t keep it up for a long 7 game series and they’re defense is too shaky for a playoff team to win a series. Tim Vino Duncan and the rest of the Spurs extremely well coached team will win this series.

Final Prediction:

Spurs in 5.

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