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Lakers-Spurs matchup: Five things to watch

April 11, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Lakers forward Metta World Peace guards San Antonio's Gary Neal during a game in 2011. The Lakers and Spurs meet up Wednesday in San Antonio.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace guards San Antonio's Gary Neal during… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (36-22) visit the San Antonio Spurs (40-15) Wednesday (5:30 p.m.) at AT&T Center.

1. Can Andrew Bynum bounce back? For the Lakers' long-term future, it's a no-brainer that Kobe Bryant would miss his third consecutive game because of a sore left shin. He plays games if he's physically capable of doing so. In this case, stepping foot on the court would only worsen the injury. But in the short term, it could continue to hurt Bynum.

He has continuously struggled without Bryant in the lineup, going 17 of 44 in the last two games. That's because Bynum's facing persistent double teams that don't have to account for Bryant scoring in isolation or in the post. With San Antonio boasting consistent post defense in Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, Bynum somehow has to find a way to react quicker to the swarming defense. Pau Gasol can knock down mid-range jumpers. Ramon Sessions can attack the basket. Metta World Peace has shown he's finally dependable in creating offense. But if Bynum can't penetrate these double teams without Bryant's presence, the Lakers can't beat San Antonio.

2. The Spurs will be well rested. For all the advice Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich still gives to former assistant Mike Brown, the Lakers coach sure plays by a different philosophy. While Brown has played his Big Three heavy minutes throughout the season, Popovich has routinely taken the long view in managing minutes. So much so that he sat out Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in a 91-84 loss Monday to the Utah Jazz, which put the Spurs back into second place behind Oklahoma City. San Antonio has lost all seven games its Big Three have missed over the years, but Popovich is mainly concerned about their health in the playoffs. The rested Big Three will give the Lakers a handful considering they've battled fatigue for quite a while.

3. The Lakers will be tested on defense. The Lakers will have their hands full fixing all these problems because San Antonio boasts the league's third-best offense in scoring (102 points per game) and field-goal percentage (47.2%). They score these points in a variety of ways, according to Synergy Sports Technology. They remain in the Top 10 in pick-and-roll plays that give the screener an open look (1st), isolation plays (2nd), transition points (2nd), spot-up shots (2nd) and scoring off offensive putbacks (sixth).

Unfortunately for the Lakers, they've allowed opponents to crack the 100-point barrier mark in seven of their last 10 games off of these areas. Their pick-and-roll coverage either has shown their vulnerability in playing underneath the screen to allow guards to shoot jumpers, playing over the screen to deny open looks in the lane, and the front-line reacting too slowly on help with both schemes. The Lakers' faster tempo on offense has set them up for failure on transition defense because they don't have the speed to get back in time. They appear jumbled with their rotations both in closing out on the perimeter and giving weakside help inside. Add in inconsistent effort, and the Lakers are in a defensive mess.

4. The Lakers should have success running the pick-and-roll. With Bryant out of the lineup, Sessions has taken a larger initiative in executing these sets with great efficiency. He has either run these plays to attack the basket or set up Gasol for mid-range jumpers. Parker didn't have to worry about such a thing with Derek Fisher in the lineup. But this is a different story. Considering Parker ranks 165 overall in defending pick-and-roll ball handlers, Sessions will probably have another big night. 

5. The Lakers' bench has no margin for error. Popovich's decision to rest the Big Three came at the expense of extending the Spurs' 11-game winning streak but had a benefit beyond rest. The strategy gave San Antonio's bench a larger role, which actually came close to winning against Utah. Since the All-Star break, the bench has averaged a league-best 44.5 points through 21 games.

Meanwhile, Brown remains so reluctant to rest his own Big Three -- Bryant, Bynum and Gasol -- beyond injuries partly because of the bench's inconsistency. The reserve unit has shown flashes with Matt Barnes' rebounding, Josh McRoberts' hustle and Steve Blake's passing. But they've never established enough consistency. The reserves' last-place ranking in points production (20.2) is misleading since they often play with starters, but it still reflects their inconsistency.


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