Game 82 Preview: Lakers vs. Spurs

Finally it is here, the last game of the regular season, the last game of Mike D’antoni as Lakers head coach (hopefully). It has been a long and brutal seven months since the Lakers first opened their training facility doors in El Segundo in early September. Remember how hopeful everyone was then. Wesley Johnson was going to prove he deserved his lottery pick status. Jordan Farmar was going to prove he belonged back in the NBA after two years overseas. Shawne Williams was going to prove his NBA career was not on life support. Nick Young was going to play in his hometown and be more than a gunner off the bench, someone who dedicated himself to defense. Xavier Henry was going to prove this was not the end of his career; making the training camp roster was his last chance. Chris Kaman was going to prove that his last year in Dallas did not matter- this was the real Chris Kaman. Mike D’antoni was going to prove he could coach his system to success. It had been a long drought. Mith Kupchak was going to prove that it was possible to hand out one year contracts to marginal players and expect results. Pau Gasol was going to prove he wasn’t the second best player on the Lakers. Without Kobe he could be the most important player, he could lead a team.

81 games later no one proved much of anything except 55 losses in a season is the second most losses in Lakers history, a history that spans 60+ years. This is the second worst season in Lakers history which is almost impossible to wrap your brain around. All of those early hopes were dashed in game two in October when the Lakers played the Warriors. Their defense was pathetic, the Warriors shot 53%, 55% from threes. Their rebounding was non existent, the Lakers were outrebounded by 9. You couldn’t chalk it up to the second night of a back to back. The Lakers did not look like they even belonged on the same court with Golden State, particularly not with Klay Thompson who had a career high in the first half. That game was the theme for the season, it laid the foundation for the next 79 games. Believe what you see. All of the Lakers woes, scoring in the paint, offensive rebounding, turnovers, perimeter defense, energy, were on stage that night in Oakland. And nothing changed for another six months.

So here we are in San Antonio. The Lakers are facing the best team in the Western Conference. The Spurs (again) have the best record. Tim Duncan (again) will go to the playoffs. Greg Poppovich (again) has done a masterful job of coaching his stars and his role players and holding everyone accountable. From management on down the Spurs are the example of how you build a franchise and maintain success over time. But down the line, in a year or two Duncan and Ginobli are going to retire and then the Spurs will understand the Lakers dilemma. But they are not there yet.

Expect Popovich to rest his stars and the Lakers to see a lot of Cory Joseph and Danny Green and Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayers. Even so the Lakers will struggle to win. The Spurs are the best ball moving team in the NBA. Mike D’antoni will have a lot of envy tonight as he watches how the Spurs move the ball and get shots. The Spurs are a machine- it does not matter who plays. They just fit the next man in. It works because their structure is not based on individual offense but ball movement and rotation. On defense they always send three rebounders into the paint and they have a superb defender in Kawhi Leonard who can guard three positions making perimeter shooting tough on opponents. The Spurs weakness is guarding explosiveness but having explosiveness is the Lakers weakness. The Spurs will run the Lakers three point shooters off the line and make them do what they simply cannot- make two point shots.

The Lakers give up more two point shots than any other NBA team. The analytics guys and Mike D’antoni hate two point shots. They point to the algorithms that say two point shots are not efficient. Perhaps there is truth to that. But when you play the Lakers, you shoot 50% on two point shots. The Lakers give up more steals than any other NBA team (bad point guard play). Assist numbers go through the roof for teams that play the Lakers (bad point guard play). Expect more of the same tonight.

In a cruel irony it was in April last year that San Antonio ended the Lakers season. Of course it was more dramatic then. Dwight got tossed and played his last game as a Laker. Kobe hobbled out the locker room to sit on the bench. A year changes everything and nothing. Dwight is going to the playoffs while Kobe is rehabbing. Courtesy of the Spurs, the Lakers are going on vacation in April again. And the Spurs have two months to avenge the most heart breaking defeat in franchise history.


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