Dwight Howard, Matt Bonner and Danny Green battle for position during the… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Even without Kobe Bryant, it's the most compelling first-round series.
Everybody loves an underdog, but everybody seems to hate the free-spending Lakers, so whom does America root for in this one?
The vanilla-flavored San Antonio Spurs or the Blake Mambas? The team that does everything adored by basketball purists or the guys who do nothing enjoyed by traditionalists? The team with a dinged-up Tony Parker or the team with a messed-up Steve Nash?
They appear to be evenly matched on paper, their final combined scores through three games standing at 278-278.
Of course, Bryant was there for two of those games. And, sure, the only one the Lakers won was without him.
Confused? So are we. But only momentarily.
Here is a look at the matchups between the teams:
Starting guards: Nash hasn't played in more than three weeks. Steve Blake hasn't played this well ever in his career. Now they're joining forces in the backcourt. Can the two Steves make it right? Not quite. Parker hasn't looked great with his sprained left ankle, but he's the only All-Star guard in this series without Bryant. Edge: Spurs.
Starting forwards: Tim Duncan was the Kobe of all NBA big men, having an incredible season (17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocked shots a game) despite the most daunting stat of all (he'll turn 37 on Thursday). Pau Gasol has played well recently but hasn't shown it all year. Metta World Peace hasn't been the same since knee surgery. Edge: Spurs.
Centers: Dwight Howard is a seven-time All-Star. Tiago Splitter is Tiago Splitter. Edge: Lakers.
Benches: Neither team is special here. Manu Ginobili would be the difference-maker if he turned back the clock five years. Instead, the Spurs made the unique (read: comical) move to sign Tracy McGrady after making the equally unique (read: incredibly comical) move to dump Stephen Jackson a few days before the regular season ended. On that note … Edge: Lakers.
Offense: Known for its stellar defense and solid technical play all these years, San Antonio somehow slipped into the top four scoring teams this season (103 points a game). The Lakers were right behind them in sixth with 102.2 points a game, but that was with you know who for 78 games. Edge: Spurs.
Defense/rebounding: Howard led the league in rebounding (12.4 a game) and was fifth in blocked shots (2.4). There won't be a defensive player like him on the court. But the Spurs don't care about individuality. They gave up 96.6 points a game this season, 11th in the NBA, while the Lakers surrendered 101 a game, 22nd in the NBA. Edge: Spurs.
Coaches: Gregg Popovich could win NBA games with five old ladies after they ate 14 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. That's what World Peace said, anyway. Mike D'Antoni is happy to be here after an incredibly turbulent season. Edge: Spurs.
Bresnahan's pick: I'm on the fence with something. Can I pick the Spurs in 5 1/2? No? Fine. Spurs in six, and that might be giving the Lakers a little too much credit. Just can't see them winning this thing without Bryant.
P; Player; PPG; RPG; APG
F; T. Duncan; 17.8; 9.9; 2.7
F; K. Leonard; 11.9; 6.0; 1.6
C; T. Splitter; 10.3; 6.4; 1.6
G; D. Green; 10.5; 3.0; 1.8
G; T. Parker; 20.3; 3.0; 7.6
G; M. Ginobili; 11.8; 3.4; 4.6
G; G. Neal; 9.5; 2.1; 1.9
F-C; D. Blair; 5.4; 3.8; 0.7
F; M. World Peace; 12.4; 5.0; 1.4
F; P. Gasol; 13.7; 8.6; 4.1
C; D. Howard; 17.1; 12.4; 1.4
G; S. Nash; 12.7; 2.8; 6.7
G; S. Blake; 7.3; 2.9; 3.8
G; J. Meeks; 7.9; 2.2; 0.9
F; Antawn Jamison; 9.4; 4.8; 0.7
F; Earl Clark; 7.3; 5.5; 1.1