NBA Game Preview: Lakers v Spurs Marks Beginning of Playoffs for LA

April 20, 2012

It's a ludicrous question that's posed every year when Kobe Bryant sits out for a few games: Are the Lakers actually better without Kobe?

It always sounds crazy, and it is crazy in the sense that it's not true. But there's a reason the question is always raised.

The Lakers tend to play more loose and free when Kobe isn't on the floor. There's 20-30 more shots to go around in every game that Bryant sits, and seemingly everyone takes full advantage of the opportunity to help fill the void. The ball moves better, and the Lakers' offense seems to flow more smoothly and consistently.

Such was the case the past two weeks in their latest stint without Kobe, as many were truly starting to believe that the Lakers were a better team with Bynum, and not Kobe, as the focal point of the offense.

That was, until San Antonio came into town last Wednesday night.

The Spurs absolutely shellacked the Lakers by 19 points in a game that was never competitive after the first 12 minutes.

San Antonio looked like a one seed mercilessly routing a sixteen seed in the NCAA tourney, leading by as many as 26 at one point. Laker fans were seen heading to the exits in droves midway through the third quarter.

In handing the Lakers their worst loss of the season, the Spurs made one thing clear: If they have any hopes of playing in June, the Lakers will need Kobe, and they'll need him at his best.

That brings us to Friday night’s rematch in San Antonio, where Kobe will finally be back after 8 games on the bench.

The test for the Lakers will be to find a middle ground between the fluid ball movement that comes in Kobe’s absence and the stagnant offense that tends to prevail with Kobe on the floor. Such a happy medium usually means 20 or less shots for Bryant, and enough touches for Andrew Bynum to keep the big man engaged for a full 48 minutes.

However, defense will have to be a larger priority if they want to slow down Tony Parker and the Spurs deep rotation of quick guards that largely were responsible for routing LA on Wednesday night.

Parker, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili, and Gary Neal combined for 73 of the Spurs 112 points, and shot almost 60% from the field. That means perimeter defense, something LA has struggled with all season long, will be of paramount importance.

The first of their final three regular season games will be tonight's contest with the Spurs, followed by a rematch with Oklahoma City.  Undoubtedly, the Lakers will need wins in order to hang onto their #3 seed going into the playoffs.

The Lakers lead the Clippers by a mere one game, and want to avoid a first-round matchup with the extremely dangerous Memphis Grizzlies. After all, in the NBA, the playoffs are all about matchups, and the Lakers would love to avoid having to deal with Oklahoma City until the conference finals.

The best bet for the Lakers would be to win all of their final three games, maintain their 3 seed, and hope that the Thunder get the first seed.

In this best-case scenario, the Lakers could possibly avoid the Thunder altogether in the postseason. In the second round, the Thunder would face the winner of the Clippers-Grizzlies matchup, which would be a dangerous matchup for OKC against either team. The Grizzlies tested them last year in the playoffs, while the Clippers have had their number all year, winning the season series 3-1.

If the Clippers were able to get past OKC, and if the Lakers could fend off the Spurs, all of LA would be ignited by a Lakers-Clippers showdown of epic proportions. Most importantly for the purple-and-gold, the Lakers would likely end up back in the NBA Finals.

Suffice to say, there’s a reason Kobe is coming back Friday night. For the Lakers, the playoffs start now.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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