Before I get into dissecting this matchup, I just wanted to give some brief thoughts about last nights game between the Pistons and Celtics.

1- How bad did Chauncey Billups look? He was extremely tentative and was outclassed by Rajon Rondo, who Billups should own night in and night out. If he plays this in game two, I’m changing my prediction to Celtics in five. Likewise if Billups is healthy and Rondo is keeps outplaying him.

2- Where is Ray Allen’s shot? Why is he in this slump? Has he been hitting the gym and taking extra shooting practice? I believe something is going on in his head that is distracting him during the game. What it is , I can’t figure it out but I have an idea: He knows he can’t live up to the expectations set by the fans and teammates and is faltering when it matters. Pressure is something he can’t handle. Every year besides 2000-2001 and 2004-2005, none of his teams, when he was the first option, made it out of the first round (both of those years he made it to the Conference Finals). Even now as the third banana, he can not handle the expectations set upon himself and his team.

3- The Pistons need to get the ball into the paint. John Hollinger of ESPN wrote a great article explaining this (His article is point 8 on the Daily Dime). He can articulate this thought much better than I can.

Now, onto the Lakers and Spurs…

While this isn’t the matchup everyone wanted to see here, I believe that this is going to be the best series of the playoffs. All of the ingredients are there: The reigning MVP, a top-3 greatest Power Forward of all time, two of the greatest coaches, Los Angeles, and a heated rivalry that has been waiting to be reestablished.

Guards: Advantage Lakers

That should really say Advantage Kobe. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world right now. Defenses can’t stop him, they can only hope to contain him to 30 points. So far he is averaging 33 points a game in the playoffs and has led the Lakers to an 8-2 record during that time as well (the best in the league). I wish I could say more but then I have to snap back into reality. Derek Fisher showed last year on the Jazz how valuable he is and he is proving it even more so this year. Its not that he is a stat stuffer, its more like he understands how to play the game correctly and will always put his team in a position to win. Couldn’t say that about the Laker’s starting point guard last year. Additionally, Fisher is a veteran of the Triangle Offense and runs it better than anyone else in the league.

This is not to say that Spurs back court is weak. Tony Parker has become a top-5 point guard this year and is only getting better. He can abuse opposing guards with his quickness or knock down the long range J. In my humble opinion, he is the toughest matchup for the Lakers. For the two-guard spot, its tough to say who starts. I’m putting Manu Ginobilli as the starter just for the simple reason that he was the Spurs leading scorer this year. And he plays too much to be a sixth man. He is just as quick as Parker, deadlier from long distance, and capable of handling the point guard duties. However, like most European players (Yes, I know he’s from Argentina), his defense is suspect and I don’t know who he is going to match up with defensively (Radmonovic I guess?).

Forwards: Advantage Spurs

This should really say Advantage Tim Duncan. As much as Kobe means to the Lakers, Timmy D means that much to the Spurs. He is their anchor on defense in the paint and he has the ability to take over games with out even touching the ball. Not to be forgotten is Bruce Bowen who is considered to be the best on ball defender in the league (I believe he is a dirty no good cheater, but thats just my opinion). He is going to have the glorious responsibility to shadow Kobe wherever he goes and attempt to stop him. While he does have little value on offense, he does have the ability to spread the floor for the Spurs and knock down the open three.

The Laker’s front court presents difficult match-up problems for the Spurs. Both Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom are 6-10 and extremely athletic. This alone should cause nightmares for the Spurs. However, Radmanovic is the worst starting player left in the playoffs and is completely useless on the defensive end of the floor. His only use will be to shoot open jumpers and subsequently miss them. Lamar Odom on the other hand is perhaps one of the best third options in the league. He rebound, drive, defend, and handle the point guard duties. His only weakness is that he can not handle pressure situations. If I am the Spurs, I am fouling him at the end of the game and putting him on the line and force him to win the game for the Lakers.

Center: Advantage Lakers

Pau Gasol has made the Lakers into the best team in the NBA. He gives them the high post presence that they have lacked for awhile. Moreover, his passing ability affords the Lakers to run their offense through him. He can dominate games with his scoring, passing, and rebounding. He is a complete player and has made this team almost impossible to beat.

Whoever the Spurs put at center (whether its Kurt Thomas or Frabicio Oberto) won’t really matter because like Bowen, their main assignment will be to play hard defense, rebound, and score second chance points. Thats it.

Bench: Advantage Neither

Both of these teams have strong benches that are well coached and well used. The Lakers go four deep with Jordan Farmar (PG), Sasha Vujacic (SG), Luke Walton (F), and Ronny Turiaf (F/C). Each of these players has a specific role and fills it well. Farmar is going to be leading this team very soon and is doing an effective job running the second unit. Vujacic add toughness and a Eurotrash aspect that is fun. Turiaf provides the energy, defense, and rebounding off the bench. However, Walton is the real wildcard here. I believe he is the fourth best player on this team and should be starting. He is like a whiter, smaller Lamar Odom because they have the same skill set. He can pass, run the offense, and do the little things that teams need in order to win. I would look to him to making a difference in a couple of games.

The Spurs on the other hand utilize most of their bench players with Michael Finley (G), Jacque Vaughn (PG), Ime Udoka (SF), Robert Horry (PF), and Kurt Thomas (F/C) all seeing minutes. Finley, Horry, and Thomas all provide even more playoff tested veteran leadership and intangibles that always seem to put the Spurs on top. The real wild card here is Udoka though. He is a more athletic version of Bowen and will be relied upon to provide valuable minutes as the Kobe Bryant defender du jour. He is also dangerous as a three-point shooter.

Coaching: Advantage Neither

At least in the West, neither coach will make a mistake that will put the other team in position to win. We saw that multiple times out East with Flip Saunders and Doc Rivers. Both of these coaches have multiple rings and know what it takes to get the most out of their players. I think the mind games they play off the court will be just as entertaining to watch as what happens on the court.

FUN FACT: Dating back to 1999, the Lakers (2000-2002) and Spurs (1999, 03, 05, 07) have accounted for 7 of the 9 NBA Champions (Detroit won in 2004 and Miami won in 2006).

Key Match-Up: Spurs Forwards vs. Lakers Forwards

If the Lakers front court can keep the Spurs less athletic big men out of their comfort zone, this series will not be as close as I believe it will be. But, as much as Odom, Gasol, and Radmanovic provide trouble, Tim Duncan is just as tough to match-up with for the Lakers. Who do the Lakers put on him? Gasol and risk foul trouble for their best post guy? Odom and watch him get abused by Duncan? If Tim Duncan can get Odom and/or Gasol into early foul trouble, the Lakers will be up a certain creek without a paddle.

X-Factor: Vladimir Radmanovic, PF, LA Lakers

If he can force the Spurs to guard him on the three point line, this will open up the lane for KB24. If puts up a 1-6 stinker like he did in Game Four of the Jazz series, then the Spurs will be able to pack it in and allow his defender to sag into the middle of floor and help with Gasol or Kobe.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

I want to pick against the Spurs…but I can’t. The big three of Duncan, Ginobilli, and Parker will be too much for the Lakers to over come. Also, look for the Spurs to take two road games (Game 2 and Game 7). However, it would not surprise me either if the Lakers took this series in five as well. But, I’m going to stick with the Spurs.

BEARD

Advertisements