We've told you how the teams match up. We've shown you how the Spurs do their damage. And we've even provided a plan for the Lakers to succeed. Now, as we like to do, its time to put our money where our mouth is, gaze into the crystal ball, and tell you how we think the series ends up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.
Without further ado ...
Lakers in 6.
This pick is completely based on my heart and not my head. I have tried to rationalize the pick every way possible. Dwight Howard's return to DPOY form has solidified an often too weak defense. Pau Gasol's health has returned and with it his mobility on defense and his ability to create opportunities on offense. The Lakers combination of Howard and Gasol are a poor match-up for the Spurs. The Lakers played the Spurs to a scoring draw over the three regular season games and won the most recent competition on the backs of their twin towers. Perhaps they can continue to play suffocating defense and pull out four wins? Those are all good rational for why the Lakers have a shot at beating the Spurs.
Who am I kidding though, the Lakers don't have enough offense without Kobe Bryant to win. Yes, the Lakers won their last two games without Kobe Bryant, but the Lakers shot only 64 for 175 in those games. That translates into a field goal percentage of 36.6%; the lowest two game total of the season. The absence of Bryant is glaring. If Steve Nash can return in decent shape then perhaps he can work his offensive magic and give the Lakers a shot at pulling out the upset. The Lakers will need everything to go right to do so though. In a season where everything has gone wrong, the Lakers are over-due for something to go right. So that is why I am picking the Lakers. It's based solely on the hope that luck will break their way for the first time all season.
The Great Mambino
The Lakers blazed into the 7th seed winning 8 of 9 games, while the Spurs have lost 5 out of 7. Aside from missing a gigantic piece in Kobe Bryant, LA seems to be the healthier team--there's no telling what we're going to see from Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, two of the guys most likely to hurt them. The Lakers are the hot team, playing with confidence, while the Spurs fan base is hitting the panic button a little bit. That being said, it shouldn't do anything more than make this into a longer series than it deserves to be. The Spurs perimeter players are too quick and disciplined for the Lakers swing men to corral, and if Dwight Howard can't stay on the floor, LA is going to get destroyed inside by San Antonio's quick guards. Even if they are in the game, Tim Duncan should be able to open up the paint by pulling Howard or Pau Gasol to the outside. Defensively, the Spurs are so steady and intelligent, crashing in on the Spaniard to make sure he doesn't take advantage of Splitter or Bonner when Dwight's on the bench.
Let's work on this principle as well: the Lakers can win this series. However, that assumes that we'll get 40 minutes a night from Dwight Howard when he's been impeded by foul trouble repeatedly this year.They'll also need to see consistent three point shooting from Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark, not to mention Howard playing all-world defense behind them to make up for their mistakes. The Lakers will need Pau Gasol to keep on buoying the offense and providing tight, timely help defense when he's been up and down all season. They'll need all this with consistent effort for 4 out of 7 games with one of the league's best defensively efficient teams. But with these Lakers, there's no reason to believe in effort or consistency.
Perhaps I'm buying too much into two games against two playoff-bound teams, but the Lakers defense as of late has given me some belief that the Lakers will make this a competitive series. It's all about Howard here, and to a lesser extent Gasol making the interior incredibly difficult to penetrate, which has been the key to any Lakers loss to the Spurs lately.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
While the Spurs serve as the more favorable poison when choosing between that or the Thunder, it's still a poison that the Lakers will have to find an antidote to without Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are extremely shorthanded, on both ends of the floor, but particularly on the offensive side of the ball. To defeat the Spurs four games out of seven nearly everything in the offense will have to go right, which is an unfavorable bet. The Lakers can still certainly give the Spurs problems, especially with Howard in the post, but there will be little to no perimeter threat. There's no telling how long Steve Nash will last in the series, and how much his injury could set him back. The Spurs have injury issues of their own, but they still have plenty to throw at the Lakers even while hobbled. Then, of course, there's the issue of stopping the Spurs in late-game situations. Even if the Lakers manage to get a few games to come down to the final minutes, can the defense stop the execution of San Antonio? The Spurs have exploited the Lakers' defensive deficiencies twice already in the regular season, and Popovich will certainly be ready to plot out the Spurs path to victory when the game's on the line. In the end, it's too little left from the Lakers, and too much consistency from the Spurs. Lakers take two games, but Spurs eventually take the series in six games.
I think the series will be decided by two things: How healthy and effective are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, who have both missed time recently? Can the Lakers' supporting cast punish the Spurs for packing the paint against Howard and Gasol? If Parker and/or Ginobli are limited and the Lakers make their outside shots, that can be a winning formula for L.A. Though I firmly believe the Lakers have a very real shot at taking the series, I think the most likely outcome is a quick series. Spurs in 5.