Spurs at Lakers Give-and-Go Preview
Just the second game of the season and the San Antonio Spurs are already treated to a national TV game against the Los Angeles Lakers. It won’t have the same buzz that this matchup usually has, but playing the Lakers in Los Angeles is always fun. To preview the game I chatted with Phillip Barnett of TrueHoop Network member Forum Blue and Gold.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Let’s talk some Spurs-Lakers. How good is this Lakers team without Kobe Bryant, but with a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol?
Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue and Gold: This isn’t a very good basketball team. Los Angeles has turned into the island of misfit toys with the collection of guys they brought in this season. They’ll be fun to watch, but this isn’t your typical Lakers team.
AM: How has/will their style of play changed without Kobe?
PB: It’s changed in a number of ways. With the starting unit, the offense is clearly running through Pau Gasol — which also has Dwight Howard being gone written all over it as well. Steve Nash has been handling the ball a lot more while on the floor, and the P&R sets have been a bit more effective through two games. They’ve been running quite a bit of Horns sets, which isn’t much different from last season, but they’ve also been running a lot of 4-out sets, which has D’Antoni written all over it.
With the second unit, is completely different from what it was a year ago. They’ve been able to extend their defense 3/4 court in stretches to try and create turnovers. There is a lot of youth and speed with the second unit, and the wings that the Lakers have brought in (Young, Henry, Johnson) have all thrived in stretches of their own.
The ball stops with one person a whole lot less with Bryant gone, but of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that a lot of these guys don’t have the talent he has to create their own shots.
AM: So what are you excited about for this season regarding the Lakers?
PB: I’m excited about the lack of title expectations and enjoying just being a fan. It’s essentially a stress free season with a young team that will be really fun on some nights, and absolutely terrible on others.
AM: Yeah that’s got to be a change of pace for Lakers fans.
PB: A huge change of pace. And for some of us — I use us lightly here — there are still title aspirations. For the most part, though, this is a team that isn’t expected to make the playoffs, but if they do, we’re in for a really entertaining season. I’m curious, though, what is the mindset of this Spurs team for this season after being a few bounces away from a 5th title?
AM: I think there are two camps for Spurs fans, though most would probably only admit to being in one. There’s the group that thinks last year was it and they’re not going to make it back to the Finals in 2014. And I can’t really argue with them, a lot of things broke San Antonio’s way last year, except for one damn rebound.
And there’s the other camp that thinks Kawhi Leonard will be a star this year and no one in the West has defined themselves as far and away better than the Spurs. I’m sort of straddling both camps, myself.
PB: As a Lakers fan, I feel like every year we go into a season with similar sentiments with the first camp you described, and every year the Spurs end up closer to the second camp. This year, I’m a little closer to the second in the sense that it doesn’t really look like any of the actual contenders improved much. The Thunder may have taken another step back with the loss of Kevin Martin. The Clippers will have front court problems in any seven-game series. The Grizzlies are still the Grizzlies.
The Spurs are still right there in the thick of the upper-echelon of the Western Conference, and if they can remain healthy, I could see them back in the Finals.
AM: For me, I have the hardest time believing Tim Duncan is going to be as effective this season as last after playing 90 games deep into June. And Tony Parker went and filled his short summer up with a long international tournament run.
PB: This makes a lot of sense. But even if this is a team that takes it relatively easy during the regular season, it’s a team that no one is going to want to see in the post-season regardless of playoff seeding.
I haven’t read much about Duncan’s injury, is this something that will linger?
AM: I doubt it. It’s essentially just a bruise, and with tonight’s game in Los Angeles the first of a back-to-back, it makes sense that Gregg Popovich would sit him. I think Pop would’ve done it even if Duncan hadn’t gotten hurt. That said, it’s a little unnerving that he’s already picked up a knock on night one.
Now let’s talk about Steve Nash. What are realistic expectations for the oldest player in the league?
PB: For me it’s still up in the air. He’s already sat a game this season, albeit just for the second of a back-to-back, but he’s already been dealing with injury issues. He had a small ankle sprain at the beginning of the preseason and had a neck problem toward the end.
None of these issues are going to linger for too long, but like you and Duncan, I’m a bit worried that he’s already having problems so early in the year. If fully healthy, I think we can expect something like a 10 and 8 guy who starts games and maybe closes them depending on how he and Farmar are performing on any given night.
Many expect Nash to be replaced in the starting lineup in favor of Farmar, but I find it hard to imagine that D’Antoni benches him much like Phil continued to start Fisher despite his obvious lack in production. If he plays 60 games this year, I’d be completely happy with that, but in reality that seems like a stretch considering last season and the problems we’ve already seen.
AM: Is Jordan Farmar really that good? Maybe it’s out of sight, out of mind, but he has not been on my radar at all leading up to this season.
PB: I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s great, but he’s much improved from when he left the NBA a few years ago — and he’s now playing in a system that better fits his skill set. He’s been great shooting the 3-ball, especially off the dribble in P&R sets. He’s also been good from long range in spot-up situations, which gives D’Antoni the flexibility to play any combination of Nash/Farmar/Steve Blake in the back court until Bryant gets back.
You can already see an improvement in transition when Farmar is on the floor, as well. This might have a lot to do with most of his minutes playing with the younger, more athletic second unit, but he’s been good so far. He wasn’t great in the Lakers loss to the Warriors, but no one was, really. We have a really small sample size of Farmar back, but it’s been really positive for the most part. With that being said, I still like him off the bench for the time being.
AM: Alright, I gotta know. Where do you stand on Kobe’s plans this season? When would you like him to come back? What’s best for the franchise?
PB: I really want to see him come back, if for no other reason than curiosity. I don’t think he’s going to rush back for any reason, and he absolutely shouldn’t. From what I’ve read, I wouldn’t expect to see him back until at least December. If he’s back in January, I wouldn’t be shocked. If he’s not back by the All-Star break, I’ll begin to become concerned.
As far as what’s best for the franchise, just having him back period will do them wonders. The better part of this city loves the hell out of that man, and we know that his time as a professional ball player is limited. The first home game with Bryant back on the court is going to be ridiculous, and morale boosting, something the Lakers need for the first time in a long, long time.
AM: Alright, before I let you go I need a random prediction for tonight’s game. Something that has absolutely nothing to do with the final score.
PB: Hmm… Pau Gasol has a renaissance performance. Kawhi Leonard throws down a baseline dunk on Chris Kaman. Marco Belinelli has one of those obscure great performance against us, 26 points and seven rebounds. Xavier Henry takes 12 free throws to keep the game close. Danny Green hits a dagger 3 with 28 seconds to put the game on ice. Spurs, Spur. Lakers fall to 1-2 in a competitive game.