Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lakers-Spurs Pre-Game 1 Thoughts

The mission: To get through this entire post with no bitterness. For the sake of this mission, we are forgoing any discussion of the last round or the Lakers historically. We're going to put these two in a snow globe, shake it up, and see how the snow falls. Here we go.

  • Odom is a nightmare matchup for the Spurs. Who do you put on him? Kurt Thomas? The Spurs system allows him to operate on a level above his ability, but somewhere along the way, there are moments within the game he's exposed. Odom is not the guy you want exposing that because his game is pretty much automatic. I would love to do a stat analysis of how many touches of his have turned to points in the playoffs. Fabricio Oberto? Unless Odom gets lobotomized and ends up just drooling underneath the basket, that won't work. Finely's not a bad option, but Odom's got too much size and speed on him. Duncan? Yeah, because Gasol versus Thomas/Oberto is a fair fight. The whole blueprint for beating the Lakers is to let Kobe get his and limit the role players. But what if you have to say "We'll let Kobe and Odom get theirs?" at what point are you giving up too much territory?
  • Conversely, this is the series where Manu Ginobili goes OFF, unless the Lakers put Kobe on him. And if they do, you have to worry about foul trouble. Putting Radman on him is a mistake because he'll cross him up. Other than that, no one has the right combo. This is going to be a ridiculously high scoring series, I think. Unfortunately, for the Spurs, that doesn't benefit them.
  • Parker is also going to have a huge series. Fisher's too old and Parker isn't a Deron Williams, "I'll cross you over or post you up" point. He just blows by you. And Gasol isn't that good at rotating to defend the drive. So that's two of the three.
  • Duncan is the best power forward in the history of the game and will destroy anyone that gets in his way. Period. That's three.
  • So am I picking the Spurs?
  • No. Like I said in the Eastern preview, it comes down to what's obvious. And the Lakers were obviously the best team in the Western Conference this year. When you factor in, "They have Kobe, no one else does" and "Lamar Odom is playing better than any player in the NBA right now" there's not a lot left. I think this is the series where Lakers fans really start to question Pau Gasol and what he can do. He's not getting any of those easy little lay-ins he's used to getting, nor is he going to have as much space to work in. But the Big Three for the Lakers are going to open up things for the perimeter shooters, and I'm not sure the rotations are going to come as easy for the Spurs against them as they did against the Hornets.
  • Here's a big one for tonight. Popovich apparently saw the same thing I did in Game 6 against the Hornets and used it in Game 7. Manu Ginobili running the half-court point position as the entry passer to Duncan in the right block. It's unstoppable, nearly. The Lakers I think will bring weakside help though, from Odom/Turiaf, or move to a zone with the middle defender coming down to double. Making the Spurs shoot from the top of the key is a good move, because they're not as comfortable there as they are in the corners and wings.
  • Of course, the big discussion is about screens and whatnot. But the real key for me? San Antonio's transition defense. Their system is geared to stop guards and slashers on the break. The Lakers, though, have a terrific ability to get their bigs involved on the break. And quite honestly, the Spurs, and Tony Parker in particular, look terrified when that happens. Whenever Tyson Chandler got down court in transition? It was almost always a bucket. If the Lakers can get them sprung, it hurts the Spurs in an area they can't stand to be hurt in.
  • Would it shock me for the Spurs to win in 6? Not at all. I picked this matchup at the beginning of the playoffs. And the Spurs have proved everyone wrong in every round. But all the calls they're used to getting, all the momentum they're used to having, all the "little things they get to go their way" that I've always talked about? That mojo? LA has about ten times that. They are the golden child of this league, like it or not. And they're not losing this series.
  • Lakers in six.

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