Kawhi Leonard and Kobe Bryant will be the matchup of the game when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the San Antonio Spurs' homecourt tonight.
With the Lakers plagued by injuries and pressure to rise from the poor performances they've given this season, Bryant will look to take command of the game tonight against a younger inexperienced Kawhi Leonard guarding him. The Lakers are coming off a disappointing loss to the Houston Rockets that saw Bryant play 41 minutes in the first of this back to back set in Texas. In their first meeting this year, Bryant shot 62% (5-8) against the Spurs in the painted area and 67% from mid range (2-3). The team was without their star poing guard Steve Nash and now will be missing two of their big men, so Bryant will have to take command of the team throughout the game to avoid a five game losing streak.
What Leonard must do on offense:
He has to keep moving off the ball and make Bryant use his legs on defense. The Spurs rely on three pointers in the corner, but this game has to be the exception. With the Lakers losing their two big men in the paint, Bryant will be forced to chase his man wherever he goes with no basket protection. If Leonard just spots up to shoot, he'll be giving Bryant some rest on the defensive end. The team has enough players who can shoot a three pointer (Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, and this year Tony Parker has worked on that shot). With this being the second of a back to back, Bryant's knees may not be able to guard a man who's constantly in motion on offense and will effect Bryant's defense.
What Leonard must do on defense:
In Kobe's mind, a one on one matchup always plays to his favor. Kawhi has to play him close and not bite on Bryant keeping the ball low since he's always looking to draw a foul on the defender. He has to keep one hand on the passing lane and another on Bryant's face while pressuring Bryant to move from the spot he's in. The majority of the time he's in a spot (mid range or running to the baseline) that he's worked on shooting, even if it's a difficult shot for any other NBA player. The Lakers will not have any inside threat, so be sure Bryant will take more than enough jumpers than he usually does. The Spurs want Bryant to take as many contested shots as he can, seeing as he can't beat a deep team like the Spurs by himself. If Bryant is isolated on offense and forced to carry the burden for the rest of the team, it'll be an easy night for San Antonio.