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How would the Lakers match up with San Antonio in the playoffs?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is the last thing the Lakers should be reading or discussing. They're in the midst of a five-game losing streak. They aren't even sure whether they'll finish as a No. 2 seed or drop down to No. 4. And they've demonstrated such a riddling amount of inconsistency, that it's plausible they wouldn't even advance this far in the postseason to see such an outcome.

So why on Earth am I analyzing how the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs would match up in the playoffs? Give me a break. The Lakers will turn things around. They just have to prove that they will. As Kobe Bryant said, "Everybody wants to put the nail in the coffin, but we've been there before and it doesn't bother us."

That's why it's plausible that the Lakers and Spurs matchup Tuesday at Staples Center won't be the last time they meet this season. The Lakers can take care of their responsibilities, secure the No. 2 seed and meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Or they may end the season on a seven-game losing streak, drop down to No. 4 and face a tougher road by playing the Spurs in the West semifinals. Either way, it would be one great series.

"I love those guys, but at the same time, I want to beat the hell out of them," Bryant said of the Spurs. "But I have a lot of a lot of respect for what they do and how they do it."

After the jump, I size up how each team could win.

Why the Lakers would beat the Spurs in the playoffs: The Lakers and Spurs have shared similar success, with the Lakers winning five NBA championships in the last decade and San Antonio three. The Lakers have often mentioned that the preparation for a playoff series is easier when they're familiar with the opponent. Obviously that history also applies to San Antonio, but here's where the Lakers have the edge: The Lakers have met the Spurs in the postseason this decade five times, and the Lakers have won four of those series.

This season, the Lakers have shown how that familiarity can pay off. There's no doubt that future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan has taken a backseat this season, willing to sacrifice his offensive production so he can facilitate a more up-tempo offense that runs through Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But the Lakers have taken Duncan out of his comfort zone this season, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol helping to limit Duncan to 12 points on five-of-26 shooting in three meetings.

The Lakers' stiff defense hasn't applied only to Duncan. In their 1-2 regular season series with the Spurs, the Lakers have held San Antonio to an average of 89.66 points a game. That included poor shooting nights for Ginobili (three of 12) and Richard Jefferson (six of 14) in the Lakers' 97-82 loss Dec. 28, for Ginobili (five of 17) in the Lakers' 89-88 loss Feb. 3 and for Ginobili (three of 10), Parker (six of 14) and Jefferson (zero of three) in the Lakers' 99-83 victory March 6. The Lakers' defensive presence was a large reason they went 17-1 after the All-Star break and it could be a huge if they were to overcome San Antonio's homecourt advantage and sixth-best offense, averaging 103.83 points a game.

Why the Lakers would lose to the Spurs in the playoffs: The Lakers' effort in stifling Duncan has had little correlation to actual victories. For example, Duncan finished with a one-of-seven clip in two games this season, but one came in the Lakers' 97-82 loss Dec. 28 and the other came in the Lakers' 99-83 victory March 6. Their defense in general also did very little to stop San Antonio. That's because the Lakers performed abysmally on the offensive end.

The Lakers' 35.4% clip in their double-digit loss to September mostly pointed to Bryant shooting eight of 27, but only Bynum and Matt Barnes shot above 50%. Bryant also shot only five of 18 in the Lakers' one-point loss in February. Surely, two of the Lakers' games against the Spurs came when L.A.'s chemistry wasn't as sharp as it was after the All-Star break, showing why the Lakers blew out the Spurs so drastically. But the Spurs are quite familiar with the Lakers and could disrupt them enough offensively at least to cost them a game in the series. Considering that the Spurs would have homecourt advantage and own a two-game winning streak at Staples Center indicates they're capable of stealing a road game, that would be a lethal combination.

But here's more. The Spurs' bench has proven vastly superior to the Lakers'. San Antonio boasts George Hill (17.3 points on 56% shooting in his last seven games) and three-point specialists in Matt Bonner and Gary Neal, who have been instrumental to the team's league-leading 39.9% shooting from three-point range. The Lakers can count on only Lamar Odom off the bench, which also features a cold-shooting Shannon Brown, a tentative Steve Blake and a previously aggressive Matt Barnes, who hasn't looked the same since returning last month from surgery on his right knee. That's why it comes as no surprise that Jackson removed his reserves in the Lakers' win in March after they allowed San Antonio to creep back into contention.

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