The Spurs are dominating the league right now, dismantling opponents left and right. They've outscored opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions over the past ten games. That they've stayed this good for so long, with their stars well into the 30s, is a testament to how well coached this team is. But what are they doing differently this year?
And to create even more space in which defenders must account for the wily Parker and the slithery Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have added a terrifying wrinkle to their ballscreen attack.
Instead of the customary side or high ball screen that is initiated from the wing or top of the key, but generally near the 3-point line, the Spurs will pull the pick-and-roll way out away from the hoop, nearly midway between the 3-point line and half court. San Antonio employs a flat screen (screeners shoulders parallel to the baseline) that most defenses counter by sending the guard under the screen to give Ginobili and Parker a running start at the help defense. Big men can be capable help defenders hedging on pick and rolls, but virtually none are equipped to manage Parker's speed or Ginobili's shifty maneuvering in top gear.
Needless to say, this is a scary team with a ton of weapons on offense. We already know Tony Parker well, he's terrorized our guards for the past decade. Duncan can still defend extremely well, despite his age. Ginobili can still dominate. The difference is the Spurs have added so many weapons. Judging by how our defense has slipped lately, this does not bode well for us:
Dragic, Nash, Westbrook, Paul, and Williams have all been able to create good looks for themselves and their teammates by running the P&R and sticking with it throughout the game. If the Lakers are going to become a better defensive team, they must handle this action better. And that responsibility falls on the guards being better at fighting through picks and the big men playing the screen consistently and in the same way.
Tonight's game won't really tell us anything we don't already know, since we cannot gauge our performance against the Spurs without Kobe. Still, if the Lakers can somehow pull out a win against the Spurs, and miraculously hold them under 100 points, it will give us a ton of confidence. If we get blown out, we can blame it on Kobe's absence. Who can step up tonight? Club 17? Black Swan? Anyone?