Game: Lakers (15-19) at San Antonio Spurs (27-10)
When: 5 p.m. PST
Where: A&T Center
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet/Time Warner Cable Deportes
By Mark Medina
SAN ANTONIO – The Lakers are in need of a win. Any win.
They’ve lost four consecutive games. They’re still ailing without Dwight Howard (right shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion), Jordan Hill (left hip) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery). The Lakers rest in 11th play in the Western Conference.
For all the reasons listed above, the Lakers face the worst possible scenario. On the second night of a back to back, the Lakers will play the San Antonio Spurs.
Good luck with that.
The Spurs are tied for first in the NBA and have a 14-2 home record for several reasons. They rank first in assists (25.2), have five players averaging at least 10 points (tied for second most in the NBA), third in total offense (104.9 points), second in shooting percentage (48.4 percent), fifth in steals (8.73) and ninth in forced turnovers (15.2).
“Right now it’s all about us somehow playing better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They are tough teams. But we have to play better and It starts on the defensive end.”
The Spurs’ big three features Tony Parker (19.1 points, 7.2 assists), Tim Duncan (17.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks) and Manu Ginobili (12.7 points) and the NBA’ most prolific bench in scoring (42), assists (11.3) and field-goal percentage (47.9).
The Lakers have a decent counter punch in Kobe Bryant (30.2 points), Steve Nash (10.8 points, 8.9 assists) and Metta World Peace (13.6 points). But Lakers’ absences in Howard and Gasol as well a bench unit that ranks 28th overall. The Laekrs will feature rookie Robert Sacre at center for the second consecutive game, a mere two days after playing in the Development league.
“Trying to keep Tony Parker and Ginolbii in front of you is easy to say, but harder to do,” D’Antoni said. “But that’s our goal and we need to do it.”
Don’t go to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for insight on the Lakers’ struggles.
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “You guys do, I guess. I got other things to think about.”
Instead, he’s thinking about ensuring the Spurs bounce back from a loss Monday to the New Orleans Hornets, which ranks last in the Western Conference. Nonetheless, Popovich has managed to ensure the Spurs play at an uptempo style despite maintain a veteran roster in Duncan and Ginobili, a facet the Lakers have struggled reaching.
“Tim Duncan has really been the key,” Popovich said. “Manu and Tony [Parker] after they got here. They allow people to thrive. They’re not demanding in the sense of being critical or jdugemental. They give time to the new guys that come in. Now it’s Gary Neal, Kawlie Leaonard, Danny Green, those guys. They create an environment where those guys are allowed to flourish and make mistakes so they can flourish They make them feel comfortable and they’re great about getting their confidence level higher. I just sit back and watch them. I get over the new guys and they kind of stroke them. It’s a good guy, bad guy kind of them. They’re the good guy and I’m the bad guy. It seems to work.”
Still, Popovich expressed sympathy toward D’Antoni, who often matched up when the Spurs played D’Antoni’s former Suns teams in the NBA playoffs.
“Mike is going through the same thing now,” Popovich said in regards to injuries. “We’ve all had injuries at some point in our careers to our teams. All of a sudden you find out I was a better coach when all those guys were healthy. We all know the deal.”
And part of that entails fielding a depleted roster against caliber opponents.
The Lakers have already lost to West playoff teams in the past week against the Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets. It hardly becomes easier when they play San Antonio tonight and Oklahoma City Friday at Staples Center.
How do the Lakers not feel they’re in over their head?
“You have guys like Nash and Kobe where they don’t get overwhelmed or back down from any challenge,” D’Antoni said. “They’re taking it as a challenge and will see if we can win tonight. They’re on a mission. We’ll see if we had enough.”