This certainly isn't the early season litmus test that every Lakers fan marked on their calendar before the season started. Instead, what should be one of the best November games on the schedule is going to be just an early season contest that won't mean much in regards to May or June.
The 6-1 San Antonio Spurs roll into STAPLES Center tonight, looking to take advantage of a very much still in flux Los Angeles Lakers team. The Lake Show has won two in a row, albeit over two of the worst teams in the league, under the stewardship of interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. As Kobe and the rest of the team have said, they've kept the sets relatively elementary and just "gone out and played ball". While that simplicity is admirable in a whimsical, bohemian sense, simply going out and playing a glorified pick-up game might not be enough to best the Spurs, even with the massive amount of purple and gold talent.
Gregg Popovich's boys are off to one of their best starts in franchise history, with their lone loss coming at the hands of the Lakers' hallway neighbors. As was the story last year, the model of the Spurs has flipped from their dominating, lockdown teams of yore to a fast-paced scoring machine. San Antonio is shooting a scorching 48% from the field as a team, coming in 9th in offensive efficiency and topping the league in assists. The Spurs share the ball extremely well, unleashing a balanced scoring attack that gives five players a double digit scoring average (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Gary Neal, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard), while Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson hover just below. They've won four of their games by over ten points against mostly quality opponents (Utah, Indiana and Portland) and defeated a discombobulated Thunder team by two early in the year. Much like last season, the Spurs came into 2012 as still somewhat underrated, overshadowed by the reigning Western Conference champions in Oklahoma City and the splashy Lakers. However, the Spurs have thus far looked like the class of the league, to the surprise of no one and everyone at the same time.
The question for the Lakers won't be if they can win or lose this game; any prognosticator can easily see a Lakers loss, even at home. Tim Duncan and the San Antonio role players are simply balling right now, and even slow starts from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili don't seem to be slowing them down a bit. Their offensive fire power, especially on the wing should be especially difficult for the Lakers to handle. In fact, the already injury-laden Lake Show will be even further depleted as Monday, as Steve Blake takes a break from joyriding in Kobe's helicopter to sit next to Steve Nash on the inactive list with a strained abdominal muscle. Darius Morris or Chris Duhon will be starting in their steads, which should leave an active defensive perimeter squad like the Spurs excited at the possibility of turnover after turnover.
The real questions revolve around if the Lakers will begin to try and look like a Mike D'Antoni team ahead of the new head coach's late week arrival. Whether that means that Bernie Bickerstaff will play the good soldier and not knowing if he'll have a job in the coming days, it will be really interesting to see if the team will start playing at a faster pace or start running many more screen-rolls, especially with Dwight Howard. I suspect that Bickerstaff will let the team play as free-wheeling as they've been so far in their two straight victories, and allow Mike D'Antoni to coach when he arrives.
Hopefully, the Lakers will take the energy and freedom they've had over the weekend and bring it into a contest with the Spurs. I anticipate that a much better prepared and calm San Antonio team will be able to take advantage of Kobe, Pau and Dwight's team, who are in transition in about seventeen different ways. However, if we've learned anything about the Lakers this year, don't ever sleep on them. Literally. Things can change over night.
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