It’s rare to find the Los Angeles Lakers in a situation where they have nothing to lose. Making the playoffs seems like a huge victory on itself considering their situation not too long ago, and now especially with Kobe Bryant not available to play. The San Antonio Spurs, except for the last game of the season, have looked better all season, and enter with the home court advantage and being huge favorites to proceed.
About a decade ago, this was the biggest rivalry in the NBA. One that ended up giving the Spurs two titles, sandwiched by three by the Lakers before Shaq left to the East, and the Spurs added two more titles. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are still with this team, as is Gregg Popovich, while the Lakers have no one left form that team. Bryant is on the DL, although there are some (including me) who think the Lakers might be better without him.
Steve Nash is another player who has been beaten once or twice by the Spurs over the years in the postseason, as he and Mike D’Antoni maxed out their credits running their run & gun offense during the mid 00’s, never getting further than the Western finals.
And here they are as underdogs against a team that moves the ball better than anyone in the NBA, with the kind of point guard and ball movement that should be causing them quite a lot of problems. Dwight Howard is a rock in the paint, and seems to have newly found focus in his defensive effectiveness, but it’s hard to see him keeping up after the guys on the outside – Nash, Meeks, Blake and others breakdown and create hole after hole.
Pau Gasol has been playing the kind of basketball he hasn’t played since the early days of the 2010-2011 season, suddenly managing to find a place next to Dwight Howard. Maybe the problem was… we won’t say it again. With a very short roster and an ever shorter list of reliable players on both sides of the ball, it’s hard seeing the Lakers keeping up with a team that might not be 100% healthy, but has been excellent this season in using its depth while continuing to improve players around the never-ending Duncan, hoping that Parker is ready for a final squeeze in push before it really is too late to win an NBA title with this core.
Prediction – Spurs in Six.