Lakers center Andrew Bynum gets to the rim for a layup against the Spurs in… (Larry W. Smith / EPA )
The Lakers faced too many scenarios that suggested a signature game against the San Antonio Spurs would end in disappointment.
Kobe Bryant sat out for the third consecutive game because of a sore left shin. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich had rested his Big Three in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker earlier this week against Utah partly so they'd have more energy against the purple and gold. The Lakers had spent a better part of the last month declining on defense, while the Spurs remained one of the most proficient offenses. The Spurs' bench remained one of the most productive, while the Lakers routinely floundered.
And the list goes on and on.
Instead, none of the aforementioned variables tilted in the Spurs' favor. The Lakers' 98-84 victory Wednesday over the Spurs featured a whole lot of highs for the purple and gold. Andrew Bynum became the fifth player in team history to grab at least 30 rebounds. Metta World Peace's 26 points marked his highest scoring output in nearly three seasons as a Laker. The Lakers put together their best defensive effort since their 106-73 win Jan. 31 over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Still, the Lakers and Spurs have two more regular-season games to gauge how they would match up should they meet in the playoffs. Below are a few areas to note.
1. The Lakers have too much length for the Spurs to handle. Without Bryant, the Lakers had no other choice than to work inside-out against the Spurs. That resulted in the Lakers overwhelming the Spurs both in controlling the tempo and outrebounding them, 60-33. It's possible the Lakers aren't as disciplined in that respect when Bryant returns to the lineup. But he obviously makes the Lakers better and would force the Spurs' frontline to space out even more.
2. Can the Lakers handle the Spurs' three-point shooting? There's one area to nitpick regarding the Lakers' win against San Antonio. They allowed the Spurs to go 13 for 24 from three-point range by showing inconsistency on closing out on shooters. The Lakers prevented this from becoming even worse by owning the glass and controlling the tempo, but this is one area that might be unavoidable. The Spurs probably would pick up at least a game or two because of their strong outside shooting.
3. The Lakers may have the strength on the pick-and-roll. For far too long, Spurs guard Parker rarely had to worry about defense against the Lakers. Derek Fisher may have scared the Spurs by making game-winning shots with .04 seconds left, but he didn't scare them with pick-and-roll sequences. For far too long, the Lakers also wondered whether Fisher was equipped in stopping Parker on the other end.
But those worries already remained irrelevant with Ramon Sessions in the lineup. Sessions' 10 points on four-for-nine shooting and five assists featured him attacking the basket and facilitating through pick-and-rolls. Meanwhile, the Lakers held Parker to a two-for-12 clip because of better communication on switching.
4. How will the Lakers contain the Spurs' bench? As promising as Matt Barnes and Steve Blake showed against San Antonio, it's pretty well established the Lakers' reserves produce in waves. Meanwhile, the Spurs' reserves have averaged a league-best 44.5 points through 22 games. It's comforting for the Lakers that they countered that in their first meeting. But let's wait and see the other two regular-season games before drawing any conclusions.
Verdict: Because of the team's respective experience levels, the series would feature plenty of adjustments. But the Lakers have more talent to pull out a seven-game series.
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