Los Angeles Lakers 91, San Antonio Spurs 86: Spurs fall despite another big night from Duncan

by

If the Spurs’ injury problems have been disruptive, the issues the Los Angeles Lakers are facing in that department are catastrophic. But The Mamba-less Lakers hosted struggling San Antonio and promptly beat them, 91-86, as they close in on the eighth and final playoff spot out west.

The Spurs (58-22), on the other hand, looked awful in their sixth consecutive road loss.  The ball wasn’t moving, shots weren’t falling, and other than Tim Duncan putting on another unbelievable show, San Antonio did not look like a team ready for postseason play. And what’s even more disconcerting is the status of Tony Parker with only two games remaining.

In similar fashion to the April 4 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — during which Parker exited the game early due to injury — the Spurs’ point guard was not on the floor down the stretch of the fourth quarter. And it’s not hard to see why. His eight assists in 28 minutes were fine; his four points on 1-for-10 shooting weren’t.

And on top of Parker’s bad performance from the floor, his defense on Steve Blake floating around the perimeter was equally as shabby. The Laker guard ran amuck in the first half, scoring 18 of his 23 points before the break and generally finding a ton of open space on the perimeter. But the Spurs can live through these moments, especially considering Parker’s ability to at least match that type of production. But he didn’t tonight, and it wasn’t even close.

San Antonio’s leading scorer couldn’t get to the seams, couldn’t find his feet underneath him on his shot and even left lay-ups short under the rim. Defensively, he got caught up on screens all night, had issues keeping up with Blake (ugh!) running around the perimeter and clearly looked bothered physically. He isn’t 100 percent healthy, and one has to wonder if the most effective thing to do at this point is rest him until the playoffs begin a few days from now. While rhythm is important to have heading into the postseason, health is most crucial. And it’s something the Spurs currently lack.

Parker wasn’t close to the only player who struggled to do anything tonight, but as the catalyst of this offense his play is magnified. And given the injury issues that surround this team, along with the recent release of Stephen Jackson, the Spurs’ depth is an issue right now. San Antonio lacked energy tonight from top to bottom, and despite holding the Lakers to less than 37 percent shooting was unable to break the 90-point mark.

Though I shouldn’t say everyone lacked energy, because Duncan was as good as ever. His 11 fourth-quarter points — 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the game — and two monster dunks kept a listless Spurs team within reach in the final minutes. It was all for naught in the end against the Lakers, but if there’s one thing that’s clear it’s that the Big Fundamental is ready for the postseason.

At this juncture, the idea of momentum could be moot. San Antonio now faces a game against Golden State in Oakland on the second night of a back-to-back, a situation in which we’ve seen Gregg Popovich rest players more times than we can count. And the Warriors are currently battling the Houston Rockers for the sixth seed, so you can’t expect them to lie down. Not to mention, the Spurs have the No. 2 seed secured and have an entirely different focus on the court right now.

That’s an important thing to remember, too. Even heading into the Lakers game, San Antonio’s mindset was completely different from what Los Angeles brought. Between the Kobe Bryant injury and the race for the eighth spot in the playoff picture, the Lakers were desperate for a win. On the other hand, looking at Oklahoma City’s schedule, the Spurs are more than likely resigned to the fact the top seed is probably out of reach. When it comes down to playoff spots on the line, the team that truly needs a victory is oftentimes the one that pulls it out over a team whose primary long-term objective is something other than a win on that particular night.

They might be struggling mightily, but it’s not as if this is the playoff version of the San Antonio roster. With two critical pieces missing — three if you count Parker … and four if you count Jackson — the Spurs system was once again not allowed to operate in an ideal capacity. The rotation players have had to pick up the slack in the absence of their stars, and because of that are certainly experiencing fatigue due to attrition. Playing out of your element can have a lot to do with that.

Remember, this roster is built around the Big 3 and the way they create for others. Without the Spurs’ top playmakers, roles change in an effort to create better scoring opportunities. When Danny Green (16 points) and Tiago Splitter (11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) — both players mostly dependent on others to create for them — are forced to expand their comfort zone, it has a sort of domino effect.

When Parker isn’t right, and when Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw (an underrated playmaker at his position) aren’t on the floor while DeJuan Blair is, the offense stalls. When the offense stalls and No. 20 isn’t on the bench, it forces Gary Neal into a much-needed scorer’s role. Neal is the only other perimeter player off the bench capable of consistently creating his own shot, but that’s obviously not where you want to turn any more often than a few bursts here and there. Tonight was a pretty glaring example of that.

The offense looked terrible once again, but it’s hardly the clear culprit here. The required pieces for this system are banged up or aren’t active at all, and without them it’s impossible to expect it to appear as it always has. First things first, the Spurs need to get healthy. They’re not winning any titles if they’re not, anyway.

And if the injuries do subside (which is clearly a big “if”), it’s not crazy to expect a fairly quick return to rhythm. And if any team can pull it off, it’s the Spurs, especially with the way Duncan is performing as his 37th birthday approaches. The “flip the switch” mentality is one most in this league would like to avoid, but momentum shifts can happen in the blink of an eye.

If you watched Game 3 of last year’s Western Conference Finals, you’ve seen it for yourself.

  • lvmainman

    Parker was awful. Splitter missed at least 5 layups. Kawhi was bullied by Artest. Those are starters against an 8th place playoff team.
    No way this team gets past the 2nd rd of the playoffs. I sure hope the Spurs are looking to add some players in the offseason.
    What on earth did Stephen Jackson do, to warrant getting kicked off the team??? The media in San Antonio is so weak.

  • samhl

    u r talking if they stay as they are right now?? i agree totally, splitter has been struggling sinse parker’s injury and then jinobli injury we all know that he is best at pick and roll offense, but at least he grabbed the rebounds and gets block shots, as for green and kawai they struggled because they don’t get the open shots created by parker and jinobli’s dribble penetration. On top of that the lakers have 3 long players (howard, gasol, and artest) to make shots difficult in the paint. Give a lot of credit to Duncan for putting that impressive stat line vs Lakers bigs.

    that being said i would rather get 2nd seed and play either rockets or golden state instead of lakers because of injuries. I was mad because Parker played vs kings and now this game. let those young guys get some confidence by playing extra minutes (kawai, neal, dicolo , green), we need to figure our final player rotation for playoffs. Neal looks like he is getting better , he is scoring , kawai was playing better and figuring out his offense. I don’t see y parker wants to play at his current condition, take those 10 days off and come back for playoffs even if it takes 2 or 3 games to find his game. it is not like we don’t stand a chance against houston or golden state.

    Look at kobe , everyone was praising him for playing 48 minutes or 40 plus minutes the last few weeks and what happened at the end?? out for 6 to 9 months, I wouldn’t even mind if parker haven’t played since march 1st , if it took to heal his ankle completely, we don’t him to look cool for media, everyone knows it is his team, maybe he is the only one who doesn’t believe it. lets hope diaw and jinobli will be healthy by playoffs, lets rest our key players rest of season, we don’t need to risk more injuries.

    As for Stephen Jackson, I believe it is something related to the team, and they wanted to keep it inside the team. it wasn’t a financial move, probably he did something and Pop kicked him off the team. it is good that media was not involved , we don’t need any distractions so close to playoffs.

  • Andrew G

    Without the ball-hog on the court, the Lakers are an actual team now.

    As I always believe, calls (or lack thereof) seem to go in favor of the Lakers at LA more times than not. Didn’t their previous game have them shoot 50 free throws to Golden State’s 16? I felt like Duncan should’ve gotten and-1 opportunities on both of those dunks, but alas.

    Ugly loss, but the Lakers are allowed one win against us this season, right? Going 2 for 3 in the series where 2 were played in LA is nothing to be unhappy about.

  • Graham

    Yeah, Quite frankly LA needed this game, while for us it would have been nice to have. Parker doesn’t look like himself…..and like the article pointed out, our role players lose effectiveness when they have to expand beyind their comfort zone. I need to see how they do in that first series before pronouncing any judgement on thwir playoff chances.

    One positive: at least we know Tim’s ready for the playoffs.

  • Andrew G

    Tim looks ready to rip the head off of anyone that stands in his way. He’s been an absolute monster. I better hear MVP chants when he’s at the line in our last home game.

    Agreed on the comment about our role players, although I feel like that shouldn’t be the case. It seems like Pop chastises them for trying to do too much when we’ve got our Big 3 playing, but then expects them to step up when we’re missing one or more of our stars. He can’t have it both ways!

    That’s what I like about Leonard, he knows how to step up WITHIN his role, not teeter between his defensive/offensive role and trying to play outside of his game. He simply does what he’s already good at a little more often.

  • Andrew G

    “The media in San Antonio is so weak.”

    That’s what makes San Antonio great. The Spurs don’t give any fodder. I don’t need daily updates about what Dwight had for dinner and how big his morning shit is. They tell you what you need to know and leave the speculation to the writers, not the players.

  • Not your average Jorge

    Timmy is the best shot blocker in the league when a player gets in position to have a monster, crowd-summoning dunk

  • este

    Hello Early Exit!!

  • assistman

    Regarding this loss: I hate to say I told you so, but there it is in the comments section from the Kings game.

    I also told my Dad before this game that aside from their bigs, I was worried about Blake or Artest going off – as they were much better players before arriving on team Bryant.

    I’d like to be wrong.

  • assistman

    Pretty sure he was digging at Green (who Pop wants to grow in confidence and stick with longterm) in an plea for more minutes, especially after Manu went down.

    Jax > Green.
    They are both rythem guys who are better as starters and suck in limited time. Jax should have just committed 100% to his defensive assignment and worked with Chip, and Pop shouldn’t be so in love with cheap character guys with major flaws. Green is almost Bonner Jr. Jax screwed himself with his rediculous concerns about contract, and Pop screwed our playoff chances. Playoff Jax > playoff Green. Balls matter.

  • assistman

    Second round if we get GS, possibly 3rd if we can handle Houston, though you know Harden will get every whistle for an OKC rematch (you know the money doesn’t want the Jazz in the playoffs and SA in the final four). But right now, I think HOU is a better team than SA. Asik troubles TD, and Harden is better than TP.

  • Tim in Surrey

    FYI, it’s “amok”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.burkhart Brandon Burkhart

    Spurs are plummeting like a North Korean rocket. At this point, I’m terrified to see what happens in the playoffs. This team needs an injection of toughness (especially since Jack didn’t work out). I swear, even though it’s not “Spurs-like”, the front office needs to find a couple of bullies for us this offseason. None of our players will get in anyone’s face, like Avery Johnson and Mario Elie used to do back in the day.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I hope Splitter gets picked up by a good team. U’m tired of seeing that old man limit his minutes.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Splitter’s been struggling because pop is screwing with his substitution timing he is now sitting 8-9 minutes between substitutions and he’s a starter. That’s just uncalled for. Instead he’s getting the two nobody’s that havent seen the court in forever get major minutes. Wow didnt see this coming. You figure you would reward your player for playing well all season and never missing a frikin game by giving him Tim Duncan minutes but Uh guess not in Dictator pop’s world. Oh well he’s old he’ll be leaving soon. Can’t come too soon though. Can’t stand that rude, arrogant, excuse for a human being.

  • Titletown99030507d

    They are just gunners and can’t defend crap if their life depended on it. And just think he got rid of the only one that plays good defense who isnt a starter. That is whaaked!