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Lakers - Spurs Preview: Rubber Match

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The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs will complete their gauntlet run of three games against each other in 10 days tonight. 67% of the way through, we know very little about how the two teams match up, because both contests have been marred by one-sided performance. The Lakers killed the Spurs in the Alamo, and the Spurs returned the favor in TinselTown. I'd love to tell you tonight will be different, but there are plenty of reasons why this contest won't provide much context.

The first and foremost reason is that tonight marks the return of Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba has been on the sidelines for the last seven games, and he returns only after having apparently gone through a full practice with zero pain. Of course, the Mamba's nerve endings could very well be fried from years and years of over-stimulation, so there's no telling what no pain means, but Lakers fans should be thrilled to get their superstar back just in time to give him a couple games to dust off the cobwebs. That said, it seems fairly probable that all the gains made in Kobe's absence (an effective MWP, better collective ball movement) are likely to be at least temporarily lost as the team re-adjusts to playing around one of the league's premiere stars.

On the San Antonio side, the season has drifted into an androgynous zone in which winning games is not nearly as important as making sure the Spurs fine (and aged) stars are well rested heading into the second season. I highly doubt any Spurs will be rested tonight, but the bottom line is that the Spurs can afford to lose this game. OKC is a game behind in the loss column for the West's top overall seed, and the Spurs own the tiebreaker between the two teams. Moreover, this is the Spurs last truly difficult game of the season, and aside from a road contest against the Suns, the only contest that the Spurs' 2nd unit wouldn't be able to win outright.

Between the Lakers' re-integration of their super star, and the Spurs' end-of-season lack of motivation, there are ample reasons why tonight's contest might not be all that revelatory. But, after two successive blowouts in opposite directions, the least they could do is play a decent game.