Spurs at Lakers Give and Go Preview
Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have both been with their same teams for their entire careers, but they couldn’t have had more different careers. Bryant enters tonight’s game with (another) new head coach and new future Hall of Fame teammates. Duncan comes in with the same head coach he’s always head and the same future Hall of Fame teammates he’s been with for over a decade.
Many of the faces change, but the matchup is always fun. Tuesday night we’re treated to our first Lakers-Spurs matchup of the season. To preview the action, Darius Soriano of ESPN TrueHoop Network Laker blog Forum Blue and Gold joined me for a chat.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: So the big story is obviously Mike D’Antoni’s first game with the Lakers. How quickly is this LA team going to be able to play the way he wants, considering the personnel?
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: I think that’s the big question, although D’Antoni isn’t set to join the team until later in the week. So, we should still see Bickerstaff [against the Spurs]. In the two games after Mike Brown was fired, the team has actually been playing a much more free brand of basketball with a lot more pick-and-roll actions. They’ve looked good doing it, so I think the hope is that the transition will be relatively smooth.
That said, D’Antoni’s system will be a change and it will require an adjustment period. We still need to see how he’s going to incorporate the big men into the game plan and how he can generate post touches for Howard and Gasol, not to mention Kobe. I think it will take some time to find a good balance between how his system has looked in the past and how to maximize the talent he has available to him with the Lakers.
AM: And also, the Lakers don’t have anyone who can shoot.
DS: Yeah. That looks to be one of the first issues that will need to be dealt with. Nash is the team’s best shooter but he’s (presumably) going to have the ball a lot more in this system. So, it will be interesting to see how the spacing is kept up when Nash is handling the ball and he’s sharing the court with guys like Pau and Metta who aren’t “shooters” in the traditional sense.
I think the Lakers would love to have some of the caliber of shooters the Spurs have.
AM: You back off.
I feel like the Lakers are able to swing trades by simply looking at the players they want. Can you tell I’m a little bitter? Why is every team in the NBA always so willing to help out the Lakers? Argh.
DS: Ha! Trades are a two way street. These teams still have to look out for their best interests, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want Kwame Brown?!
AM: Or whatever the Magic got? All those high draft picks and young prospects.
So how’s the Dwight Howard-Pau Gasol pairing so far? Have they been able to play off of each other well?
DS: The pairing looks good so far on offense. For Pau, he’s gotten a fair amount of reps playing with another very good big man from playing with Andrew Bynum for all those years. That’s led to him really looking to get Dwight the ball in good positions where he can do damage.
Howard’s mostly been helping Pau by drawing a lot of attention under the rim which has opened up space for Pau on his mid-range jumper and in creating lanes for offensive rebound chances. But, so far, it looks like Dwight is benefitting a bit more at this point. I looked at the stats the other day, but when Pau is on the floor, Howard shoots around 70% from the field. When Pau is on the bench, that number dips to around 58%. That latter number is still great, but the former is a fantastic clip.
From the Spurs standpoint, how do you see them defending the paint against those two?
AM: Mostly prayer.
I’m actually a little more comfortable with Boris Diaw soaking up a lot of front court minutes and hopefully limiting the amount of time Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair see on the floor. The more Tim Duncan/Diaw/Tiago Splitter have, the better off the Spurs will be. Pop has used the Duncan-Splitter tandem some early in this season. And though he wouldn’t say it, I have a feeling he’s done so because he wants to get them comfortable playing alongside each other for games like this one.
DS: That makes a lot of sense. Pop always looking at the big picture.
AM: What is the Kobe Bryant/Dwight Howard dynamic looking like at this point? Is Kobe homicidal?
DS: I think Kobe’s been most frustrated by the losing. In game, he’s shown a fair amount of fire to try and combat the early losses and taken it upon himself late in games to bring the team back. But as far as his relationship with Dwight, things look to be on solid ground. Dwight’s been preaching patience early this year and that’s really been the theme of the season so far. He’s clearly not back to being Dwight Howard from a physical standpoint and I think he knows he’ll need to lean on the rest of the team until he’s all the way back.
AM: I know winning cures all ills (or in Kobe’s case, most), but are you optimistic about their ability to get along as this season and next unfold?
DS: I am. I think Howard is a real locker room presence but that it’s still pretty clear that Kobe is the main leader at this point. I expect that dynamic to level out over the long term, should Howard re-sign long term (crosses fingers).
AM: Rumor is, Chris Duhon will be starting on Tuesday night. How many points will Tony Parker score?
DS: All of them? I’m pretty sure that’s the right answer here.
AM: I’ll take the over.
DS: On a more serious note, the Lakers don’t really have a good option to slow Parker. Even if Steve Blake were healthy enough to play (and with an abdominal strain, that’s not likely) Parker would be set up to have a field day. The Lakers’ help schemes will need to be sharp tomorrow.
AM: Is that the Spurs’ hope against the Lakers if they were to play in a seven game series? Take advantage of the defense not involving Dwight Howard (i.e. drive-and-kicks to shooters)?
DS: I think so. On opening night, the Dallas Mavericks did a good job of running a lot of on ball screen actions involving every defender except Howard. The ran variations of the P&R with the small forward, power forward, and even the shooting guard to free up Darren Collison to attack the paint. That put Howard in secondary help situations and the Lakers had trouble with their rotations. Dwight is so disruptive when he hedges and recovers that the smarter play is to keep him on the back line and have the other defenders rotating in front of him.
AM: How confident are you heading into the game?
DS: Not that I’m expecting the Lakers lose, but that wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The Spurs have the ingredients to really bother this Lakers’ group solely from a personnel and scheme stand point. When you combine that with the continuity the Spurs have and the lack of that on the Lakers’ side, the Spurs should be favored.
The main hope is that the Lakers have found some sort of comfort zone after the Brown firing and get a boost from playing at home. But, the injuries at point guard and the lack of depth on the wing will hurt them against the Spurs. How do you see this game going?
AM: Tough to say. The Spurs bench has been inconsistent so far this season, but they’ve been lucky that every game at least one guy has stepped up and performed well. I could see the Lakers being energized by a new coach and playing over their heads for a couple of games. But I’m going to go with the Spurs by a comfortable margin. Nothing outrageous, but nothing that’s going to mean we get a lot of fouls late in the game as one team tries to play the free throw game.