Around this time, we start seeing magazines spitting out their NBA preview editions and our favorite radio and TV sports shows giving out their version of the upcoming season. With the lockout showing some life that it could very well end on time to save the entire 2011-12 season, The Purple and Gold Blog will now commence on our take of the new season. Our 2011-12 season preview will start off with a look at the top 4 threats of both conferences to the Lakers in descending order, then finish off with a detailed observation and prediction of our beloved team. This is competition #4 of the Western Conference.
After streaking passed the entire Western Conference last season with a 61-21 record, the San Antonio Spurs became only the 2nd top-seeded team to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs since the inception of the 7-game format of the opening round. In that series against the surprising Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs’ lack of depth and their Big 3’s inability to carry the team together ultimately doomed them against the younger, better and hungrier Grizzlies team.
There’s no doubt that a bit of changes in the roster could make them a more serious contender this new season, but having enough (if any) tantalizing trade baits is entirely a different matter.
Still, with Gregg Popovich making all the calls and guys like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker wearing this silver and black, there’s no reason for Spurs fans to carry a doom-and-gloom attitude when and if this lockout ends.
COACHING: Kobe Bryant once said that no team in the league knows the Lakers as a team and as individual parts more than the Spurs. That’s because Popovich is one heckuva coach who loves to exploit the other team’s weaknesses probably better than any active coach today. With Mike Brown being a former assistant coach to Popovich, concerns for the Lakers start here. (Remember what happened in the 2007 NBA Finals?) Then again, Brown isn’t coaching Lebron James and the Cavs anymore. Or does that even matter? Advantage: SPURS
POINT GUARD: Unless the Lakers develop a tremendous defensive outfit that can deal in large with guard penetrations and pick-and-rolls, Parker should have a field day against any point guard the Lakers could throw at him. Advantage: SPURS
SHOOTING GUARD: Ummm…do I really have to get into this? Advantage: LAKERS
SMALL FORWARD: I expect Metta World Peace (still not used to calling him that) to be on his “A” game for much of the playoffs (or at least when he’s needed the most), especially after guaranteeing that the Lakers will win the title next season. If he is, there’s really nothing Richard Jefferson could do to sway this matchup to his favor. If he’s not, well it’s a good thing he’ll be matched-up with Jefferson. Advantage: LAKERS
POWER FORWARD: If you’re a Spurs fan, you’ll probably wish that Pau Gasol will mirror his performance against Dallas last year. Not gonna happen, I’m afraid. Instead, expect a grumbling Gasol who will use the entire playoffs as his “I’ll Make Up For It, I Promise” tour. Advantage: LAKERS
CENTER: Name one Spur who can handle Andrew Bynum…injured or not. Advantage: LAKERS
BENCH: Comparing the existing bench for both teams, the Lakers have better depth but the Spurs bench have no trouble stepping up. But if Steve Blake plays like he’s more comfortable under Brown than Phil and Matt Barnes regains his effectiveness as a key bench player, that should be enough support for Lamar Odom and the team. Advantage: EVEN
The Series Changers
SPURS: Tony Parker
It’s no longer a secret that the Spurs go when Ginobili goes. The Lakers know that better than any team in the league, so expect Manu to get a steady diet of tough shots and blocked lanes to the hoop. That’s not something Popovich would like the Spurs to rest their hopes on. Instead, you’ll see a variety of pick-and-whatever to get Tony loose for layups, floaters and some dish-and-drives. If the Lakers struggle defending those, San Antonio has a chance of eliminating them.
LAKERS: Andrew Bynum
Not exactly the guy a lot of Laker fans would find even healthy for the post-season. But, he’s the one player who’ll get a chance to defend the shot of each of the Big 3 for the Spurs. If Bynum establishes himself and often defensively in this series, there’s absolutely nothing the Spurs could do to get passed the Lakers.
Watch Out For…
DeJuan Blair: This guy can explode for a double-double at any given half of any game, if not given proper attention. The consistent inconsistencies of the Laker bench just might be the only thing he needs to become one nasty splinter to deal with.
Laker point guards vs. Tony Parker: (Unless the Lakers get themselves a decent starting point guard, get used to seeing the point guard position as the point of concerns the entire post-season.) What separates Parker from the other point men outside of Derek Fisher in the league is his experience in running the team to win it all. That is potentially dangerous for the Lakers if they allow Tony dictate their defensive scheme too much. But one good thing about Brown is he knows Parker pretty well.
Keys for the Lakers
Contain Parker: Manu may be the heart and soul of the Spurs, but Parker is still the captain of the ship. If the Lakers can control his outbursts, they’ll have an easier way to dominate this series.
Punish Duncan: Timmy is way passed his prime to really carry the Spurs anywhere. Yet, he’s their only go-to guy in the post on either end of the floor. He no longer likes to defend anyone one-on-one so why should the Lakers give him what he wants?
Bench: The Spurs bench may not have an Odom-type of a player who can make a huge impact as soon as he steps on the floor, but that group helped the team win the best overall record last season. If allowed, they can do damage big enough to make next spring as frustrating as the last time for the purple and gold. The Laker bench cannot afford to rely on Lamar’s numbers or even with Barnes’ hustle plays and expect an easy time against San Antonio. If they do, well use your imagination.
If there’s one thing both the Spurs and the Lakers learned last season is that talent and coaching alone are not enough to get by in the NBA these days. I expect this series to be as heated as any other series in the playoffs. Afterall, these are the 2 teams that won more titles than any team in the last decade, so they’re fighting to win as many championships as they can before their biggest guns are demilitarized and retired.
As much experience or savvy Popovich may have over Brown, the players on the floor are still the ones who get the job done. Afterall, did his elite status as a coach do anything against Memphis coach Lionel Hollins? Hardly. Then again, how much better coaching could he have done if his best players struggled to even run up and down the court? The health of both Duncan and Ginobili has been a nagging issue for the Spurs for years, and with both players being a year older next season, it would be foolish to even say they’ll be in top shape come playoff time.
Only Brown coaching the Lakers is the only major difference between these two teams in recent memory. Yes, the Lakers will be under a different system, but the playoffs happen at the end of the regular season, not the beginning. By then, the Lakers should be comfortable enough under Brown that it should no longer be an issue (or a matter of a disadvantage) against them.
What the Spurs should really worry about is trying to stop Kobe, Pau and Andrew from doing what they do for 4 games. One game? A cautious maybe. But for 4 games? I think not.
Next “The Competition” Memphis Grizzlies