Steve Blake

The Los Angeles Lakers are entering a postseason series without home court advantage and even weirder, without Kobe Bryant being available. It means Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol need to be superstarish and more in order to dominate against a San Antonio Spurs team that isn’t entering the playoffs in the best of forms, but are still huge favorites to advance into the next round.

While the two teams are pretty similar in their offensive efficiency (Spurs are 7th in the NBA, Lakers are 9th), the ability to play defense makes a lot of difference. The Lakers are in the bottom third of the NBA when it comes to defensive efficiency, allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions, compared with the Spurs giving up only 98.5, the third best in the NBA. A huge change from last season and in general the last few years, when San Antonio had the best attack in the NBA but faltered because of their defense.

With Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard locking down the perimeter, Tim Duncan has a much easier time controlling and closing down the paint, with the help of Tiago Splitter, who still needs to improve that aspect of his game. The Lakers don’t pose much of a threat on the outside, but with Howard and Gasol, they will be able to draw in defenders and give Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison open shots.

The Lakers other huge problem is stopping the fast break, in which they are one of the worst in the NBA. It seems only one player ever tries to make the save after a turnover or a long rebound by the opponents, and more often than not it’s someone like Steve Nash, who can’t do much about the situation anyway.

There’s no getting around it – for the Lakers to get an upset to happen, they need the injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to be real, and persistent. With a full lineup and especially Parker on board to torment Nash, it’s not going to be pretty.

Predictions – The Spurs have lost three in a row entering the postseason, the Lakers winning five, including beating San Antonio. A rested Parker, with or without Manu, should be enough to make the difference and set a quick enough pace the Lakers won’t be able to keep up with.