ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy and NBA TV/TNT analyst Greg Anthony size up the Lakers=Spurs first-round series, which begins at AT&T Center Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PST on ABC.
What do you make of the Lakers heading into their matchup against San Antonio?
Van Gundy: I don’t think with their injury situation and their lack of perimeter offensive talent hat they match up well with any of the playoff teams. They’re going to have to win low=scoring, grind it out type of games. I think as much as L.A. seems liberated making the playoffs and getting the seventh seed and giving themselves the best chance to be competitive, I think Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were hugging each other too that they got the Lakers instead of the Rockets. Both teams wanted each other because it’s their best chance. Now it will be interesting to see how it will pan out.
Anthony: We’ve been making a lot more of them if they had Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash at 100 percent. I didn’t think they would make the playoffs 40 games ago. They proved me and a lot of other people wrong. Had they gotten in healthy, they would’ve been everything San Antonio could’ve feared and they could’ve won that series. The Spurs aren’t playing their best basketball and are dealing with their own issues from an injury standpoint.
They wouldn’t have to do things they’re not totally comfortable doing. That’s what we’ll find out. Steve Blake took 20 shots the last game. Up until the last two games, when is the last time he took that many field goal attempts? They’ll have to have guys do things that aren’t necessarily a part of their character to have success. That’s when things get difficult in the postseason. If they’re healthy, everyone stays within themselves and plays their normal role. Then you say this is going to be a tough series and one the Lakers could win.
How can the Lakers compensate for Kobe Bryant’s absence?
Van Gundy: They can’t. That’s why great players are great players. If it could be replicated, it would be much easier. They have no shot at replicating it, but I think the strength of the team right now is their defense. If they can get back, they’re just not a great transition defensive team, but if they could, their halfcourt defense with Howard anchoring it can be very very good. Howard against Houston was so dominant that it reminded me of his time in Orlando again. His effort was phenomenal. His rim protection was so dominant that if he had played like that, he would be the defensive player of the year every year. He’s head and shoulders above anybody else when he plays with the right mindset.
Anthony: Dwight Howard is not going to be uncomfortable being the guy. He’s been the best player on an Orlando team that has gone on to the Finals. He’s been the best player on a team almost his entire career. Pau Gasol is not going to be uncomfortable with having additional responsibilities. That’s going to work to the Lakers’ advantage. The fact with Gasol playing like he’s playing, the Spurs don’t really have an answer for him. Duncan can’t guard both players. One of those guys will have an opportunity to have a huge impact. You saw it in that last two games against San Antonio and Houston. Those two guys combined for 37 rebounds.
That creates plays. I don’t care who you are. They can get you extra possessions and they’re both pretty efficient. I still think it’s going to be a hell of a series. But those first two games psychologically are going to be really important for the Lakers. They already know they’re going against the 8-ball a little bit because of the injuries. We don’t know the status of Steve Nash and so if they somehow can get one of those first two, from a confidence standpoint, it will go a long way. Maybe they’ll then have a chance to make some noise in the postseason.
What do you make of the Spurs’ season?
Van Gundy: Certainly, San Antonio with Ginobili hobbling and coming back, Boris Diaw out and Stephen Jackson released, their depth has been compromised. You have a better chance when that happens. That’s why San Antonio has a better chance of beating L.A. because of their injury concerns with Bryant out, Nash hurt. Health is a major factor.
Anthony: I don’t know who the Spurs are right now. That works to the advantage of the Lakers. Manu Ginobili is not the Manu Ginobili we’ve seen in years past. Tony Parker, I expect to play at a high level. But he’s coming back from a significant injury. He’s going to have to deal with some rust. Tim Duncan is obviously the best ever to play at that position and is playing at a very high level. Ultimately, it depends on that supporting cast and in particular, Kawli Leonard, on how those guys play. The Spurs for the last five or six years, haven’t really performed well in the postseason. It’s hard for me to envision that’s going to change.
Who will win the Lakers-Spurs series?
Van Gundy: They have a better chance to be in more competitive games. They’ll be in the games. How many can they win? I would say San Antonio in five. But they have a fighting chance.
Anthony: . It’s going to be competitive, but I still give the edge to the Spurs. It’s tough because I don’t know what Nash’s status is. If Nash plays, I can see a scenario where the Lakers win two games. If he doesn’t, then I see a scenario where it goes five.
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