The Los Angeles Lakers fought their way into the playoffs and somehow came away with the seventh spot in the playoffs. They’ll face the San Antonio Spurs. Even though the Spurs have the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, many people are picking the Lakers because of how hot they are.
The Lakers have been on a tear in the month of April winning five straight games and eight of their last 10. The Spurs are on a three game losing streak and have lost seven of their last 10 games. They are two teams coming in from completely different sides of the spectrum–in other words, this is going to be an extremely fun series.
Three Keys to Victory for the Spurs
The Spurs really need to just get back to playing the way they were before April. They were the second best team in the league record wise and in many statistical categories. They have shown the capacity to be a dominant team in the NBA. We can’t forget that they are the second seed in the Western Conference.
- Tony Parker has to play like Tony Parker
For the Spurs to win this series as convincingly as they should, Tony Parker needs to play like himself. He got injured in the second half and was out for from March 1st to March 22nd. Up until March 1st, Parker averaged 20.9 points per game and 8.0 assists per game with only 2.6 turnovers. He shot 53% from the field and was in the debate for being the best point guard in the league. Since then? Parker has averaged 16.7 points per game along with 7.3 assists on 44% shooting. While that isn’t bad, its not up to par with Parker’s high play. He has to be comfortable back on the floor again after sitting out for a few weeks. I’m very confident that he’ll get there in this series against the Lakers defense.
- Beware of the hi-low
The Spurs are going to be faced with a lot of hi-lo action in this series. With Kobe Bryant out for the Lakers, they’re going to run their offense inside out. That means that we’ll see a lot of baseline cutting from Dwight Howard after screening. The Spurs have to be aware that Pau Gasol is most dangerous when he’s a passer.
In the Lakers last 10 games Gasol is averaging 6.6 assists per game with 10.8 rebounds as well. He’s putting in work on the glass and getting his teammates involved. He’s been the Lakers best player since Bryant went down and its all thanks to the adjustment Mike D’Antoni made with Gasol. The screen and roll isn’t out of the D’Antoni offense completely. Instead, its enhanced and has a bit of a twist to it.
Take a look at the play below where the Lakers set Gasol up in the high post off of a screen as Metta World Peace posts up Chandler Parsons. Gasol will set a screen and then pop to the elbow where he sets up shop. As Parsons tries to deny MWP position, the ball is being moved from side to side. When it hits Gasol he immediately makes the pass to MWP for the and-1. See for yourself.
This is where the Lakers size can almost certainly kill you. When you’ve got a player who is able to control the offense from the middle of the floor, that’s always dangerous. You’ve got to try to make Gasol a scorer and assure that he doesn’t make the Lakers inside game that much harder to defend.
- Move the ball from side to side
The Spurs are a side to side offensive team. They use a lot of wing pick and rolls and a lot of wheel screening to get their offense engaged. The Lakers aren’t really good at keeping up with the ball–no one is, really–when moving it from left to right. The Lakers defensive fundamentals are some of the worst in the league and if the Spurs cna continue to keep the ball in motion then it’ll definitely help them in the long run.
One thing that does hurt them is that Boris Diaw is likely out for quite some time. The addition of Manu Ginobili back on the team will help here but he isn’t going to be the fulcrum in the middle of the floor moving the ball for the second unit. The Spurs still have Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan–who will likely see a minutes increase since the playoffs are upon us. Still, fundamental offensive basketball will help the Spurs out a ton here. That’s not something that they should worry about.
Three Keys to victory for The Lakers
- Set Pau Gasol up at the elbow as much as possible
As seen before, Pau Gasol is masterful at the elbow. With the new addition in the offense of having Gasol pop to the side or slip the screen and go to the elbow, it forces the defense to react quickly to him sitting at the elbow.
The best part about it is that it doesn’t take the Lakers very long to run this play either. It’s something they use multiple times per game and their most productive set right now.
Take a look at how it was used after the Lakers got a second opportunity after a near turnover. They executed this with only eight seconds left on the shot clock and it resulted in a wide open three for MWP at the start of the game.
Its a pet play for the Lakers that we’ll see used a lot in the series coming up with the Spurs. Its really hard to counter it, but as long as you stay close to Gasol and force him to be a scorer you’ll have a shot at stopping it.
- Assert your point guard play
The Lakers point guards have been problematic on both ends of the floor this season. They haven’t really been able to find offense out of anyone besides Steve Nash. Steve Blake has had a recent great stretch in the last two games, but other than that he’s been nothing but a flash in the pan. If Mike D’Antoni can find some type of balance between his point guard rotation on the offensive and defensive end, the Lakers have a shot. They need to focus on keeping Tony Parker in check more than anything else. On offense they only have to let Gasol do the heavy lifting. If they can do the bare minimum without making bad offensive plays, the Lakers can beat the Spurs.
- Dwight Howard must be Dwight Howard
Down the stretch Dwight Howard has been huge for the Lakers. In the last five games, Howard has averaged 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds along with a nasty block total of 2.6 per game. Those are elite numbers from a player who we’ve expected this from all season long. With Bryant down and Gasol carrying the load on offense, things seem to be easier on Howard. This could be because of Pau taking away another teams big and leaving Howard single covered on the glass. In theory, that would open up things and the hi-lo plays would be easier to execute.
In any event, Howard has been the dominant player that we all know him to be in the last few games. If he can keep that up for a playoff series, there’s no reason why we couldn’t see an upset here. When Howard is healthy he’s one of the top five players in the NBA. That’s not something that you can stop without a lot of help and even still, its very difficult to manage. The Grizzlies beat the Spurs with the same strategy of using size three years ago. It could happen again if the Lakers execute properly.