'08 Western Conf. Finals Preview
Lakers (1) vs. Spurs (3):
Easily the toughest defensive squad the Lakers have faced after going vs. two middling def. teams in the first two rounds. On the other hand, this is the toughest offensive team the Spurs have faced so far.
The Lakers have been successful getting out in the open floor in the first two rounds. But the Spurs historically are tremendous in transition defense, so this element of the Lakers' attack could be muted in this series. Something to watch for.
Lakers can drill shots on the perimeter and have been killing it from deep thru 10 playoff games--40% from 3pt. But if there is one thing the Spurs pride themselves on, it's guarding the 3pt. line. Though their 35.7% 3pt. defense does not look like anything special, S.A. is only allowing 14 3pt. attempts per game. And this really illustrates what they do better than any team--they get you off the 3pt. line and encourage mid-range jumpers. This task could be trickier vs. the Lakers, though, because Odom might need to be doubled sometimes, and Kobe will always draw extra attention. This battle of the 3pt. line could be a key subplot of this series.
The Lakers' mediocre defensive rebounding from the reg. season has carried over into the playoffs and really became a glaring weakness that Utah exposed. But the good news for LA is that, though the Spurs are a superb defensive rebounding team, they tend to be a lackluster offensive rebounding unit--although Thomas & Oberto have to be located when a shot goes up because both can be dangerous on the off. glass.
It will be interesting to see how much Phil chooses to double-team Duncan. With Gasol, the Lakers will not have to double constantly, but Pau will need help a decent amount of the time. I still think the Lakers' failure to double-team Tim in 2003 cost them the series. Phil has been more willing to double the last few years, and I expect he saw how effective N.O.'s doubling was for a good chunk of the series. Make the Spurs prove they can hit their outside shots every game.
The Lakers need to use their size advantage at the 3-spot to attack Manu when he's on defense. When Walton is in the game Phil has to look to post him (fulcrum of Triangle) vs. Manu. Also, Odom creates a really tough matchup for the Spurs. He's the type of forward that can give issues for Thomas & Oberto.
As much as the Lakers presumably have the advantage in the Odom-Thomas/Oberto matchup, the Spurs look to have the upper hand at the PG spot. Fisher is a smart, tough defender, but he will have his hands full containing Parker in the open floor & on screen/rolls. Would like to see Kobe on Parker for limited stretches to try to mess up Tony's rhythm. Kobe will probably get the call to check Manu, but I could even see Odom getting a few minutes on Manu while Vlade can guard Thomas or Oberto.
The Spurs do have elements of their defense that match up well with what the Lakers like to do: great transition defense, great 3pt. defense, and arguably the best defender vs. Kobe in Bruce Bowen. Even with all that, LA's offense is just deadly right now, and even too powerful for the vaunted S.A. defensive attack in my estimation. The Lakers' length, versatility, multiple shooters, depth, & all-around passing makes for an awesome offense. Plus, having Kobe around & homecourt kinda helps even more.
LAKERS IN 7