The matchup of the first game in the series between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers will be between Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard.
The Lakers have not only won 5 games in a row, but Dwight Howard has been playing like the player everyone expected him to at the beginning of the season. In his last 10 games, Howard has been averaging 20.6ppg and 11.4rpg in 38.1mpg. The majority of the offense has been going through Howard with the team losing Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the season and playoffs with an Achilles injury. Duncan has been equally impressive in the last 10 games with an average of 19ppg and 9.3rpg in 29.9mpg. Howard has helped bring the Lakers into the playoffs with momentum while the Duncan and the Spurs have been the opposite coming into the postseason. This matchup is likely to determine Game 1 in San Antonio.
What Duncan must do on offense:
Tim Duncan will likely get some touches in the paint or on the elbow if the Spurs keep struggling with their offense. This isn't the most ideal offense against the Los Angeles Lakers with their two big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, in the paint area. Duncan can take the Lakers' big men off the dribble and force the defense to collapse during the play, but the Spurs can't defend on him for 4 Down players. He'll be too far inside and close to the help defense. Duncan is shooting 43% (144-335) from mid range this season, which will be a huge problem for the Lakers with Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter as a pick and roll tandem. Duncan's jumper will pull away any help the Lakers need in that situation and will also possibly leave Duncan open on cutting to the basket if his man leaves him. If Duncan does decide to play inside, he'll have to start a bit farther away from the basket where he can hit his bank shot to keep the defense uneasy. Although he's shooting only 67% (168-251) from the restricted area, the Spurs can't have a predictable offense in the paint against the big men of the Lakers.
What Duncan must do on defense:
Howard is shooting 65% (292-447) in the restricted area and he's primarily an inside player. These are not only attributed to post ups but also to alley oops he gets from time to time. One of the major reasons why the Lakers have been on a roll as of late is because of Howard commanding the attention of the defense. The only two bodies the Spurs have to try to play great defense against him are Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Duncan has to force Howard as far away from the basket as he can to catch the ball, but also know that any shot from Howard is better than a 3-point shot from any other player. Howard is the Lakers' new focus on both ends on the floor and can't handle the burden of playing good offense in the post and then helping out the team on defense without rest. If the Spurs maintain patience on the defense end and don't try fouling on Howard's post ups, they'll be forcing him to score the majority oft he possessions without kicking the ball out to their shooters, who will remain cold throughout the night. Don't be surprised if Hack-A-Howard is also used, which would kill momentum the Lakers may have on offense with Howard and would give the Spurs more possessions on offense. If Duncan can force Howard to score over his tall stature and long arms the whole night and try to carry the Lakers well around his 35.8mpg, San Antonio shouldn't have too much trouble this game.