This may be the hardest game of the regular season to get a read on. This might be a really important game; it might be absolutely meaningless. I think we won’t really know how big of a deal it was until it’s all over and we can analyze it in retrospect. What I think I’m hoping for is a competitive game that might give us some insight into how a playoff series between these teams might go. I don’t think games 1 & 2 were a good indicator of that. Oh, and I’m hoping for a Spurs win.
1. Song: The Band, “The Weight”
In honor of the death of The Band drummer Levon Helm earlier this week, I chose this one, probably their best known song from 1968′s Music from Big Pink. If you are too young to remember The Band – which I was, except for an older sister who brought me to some older music – give this (and lots of other stuff) a listen. They are one of the most influential groups of the 60′s and 70′s and played a style that tons of bands after them emulated.
2. Key Match Up: Bynum and Gasol vs Duncan and Splitter / Diaw / Bonner / Blair
One of the bigger questions pre-game is who starts in the frontcourt. Blair was benched in the last game against LA (and did not play at all) in favor of a Splitter start, which was solid defensively but was limited offensively. Here’s my bold bet tonight for the starter at C: Bonner. It makes sense to make Gasol chase him around the perimeter for the first 6 minutes and keep Pau out of the paint.
Regardless of who starts, keeping these guys off the boards, particularly offensive boards, is critical to the Spurs’ chances of winning this game.
3. Keeping An Eye On: Kobe. Obviously.
There are several major storylines in this game, but one of the biggest is how the Lakers played without Kobe. They were 4-2 record-wise and you can make an argument the ball movement and touches by the posts were better in Kobe’s absence. Does Kobe come back gunning? Do the other players slip back into a deferential role to him? Does the ball movement stop? Does Bynum continue to get 15-20 shots? It’ll be curious to see Kobe’s minutes, shots, and assists and how those correlate to the final score.
4. Bold Prediction: Spurs by 6
My prediction is simply that home court prevails and the Lakers are going to be “rusty” with Kobe back in the lineup.
My caveat is this: I think there is a 50-50 chance that Pop goes crazy and pulls Manu or Tony or Tim. He has shown a history of not caring a whit about “WC Finals preview” kind of games or “litmus test” matchups. At some level, it doesn’t matter. I think both the Spurs and the Lakers are confident enough to survive this game if it’s a loss. These two teams may not even see each other in the playoffs. So, where’s the benefit of laying out to win this game? It’s just a hunch, but I could see where Pop may be thinking that way. As I said yesterday, sometimes he likes to leave unanswered questions in the regular season unanswered.
Odds and Ends
This is also a battle of deep versus shallow. The Spurs depth has been discussed at length, but the Lakers bench is the envy of no one. Steve Blake, who is now known as Tony Parker’s personal traffic cone, Matt Barnes, and Devin Ebanks are guards and wings, while Josh McRoberts (star of Timmy’s latest dunk poster) and Troy Murphy play some spot minutes at forward. It’s a study of front offices also, as R.C. has built a team that gives Pop room to rest starters and share minutes. Meanwhile, both Kobe and Pau are among the league leaders in minutes played and Bynum probably would be if not for the games he has been in foul trouble or ejected.