Project Spurs kicks off its 2013 Spurs Playoff preview as the Spurs face the Lakers in the first round. Check out the key matchups in the opening series brought to you by Kyle Boenitz.
A lot of San Antonio Spurs fans have been saying, “Bring on the Lakers!” all year. Well, if that was you, you got your wish, congratulations.
While I’ll admit that this matchup was a lot scarier to me when Kobe Bryant was playing, I still think it’s not anything the Spurs should take lightly.
If Bryant were healthy, the big matchup to watch would be him against Kawhi Leonard, but with Kobe out of the lineup, the focus switches to the center and point guard battles.
Center: Tiago Splitter vs. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard has now become “the guy” for the Lakers. Even though he’s only been there for one season, with Kobe gone, it’s his team. This was extremely apparent during Wednesday night’s game between the Lakers and Rockets. Howard played 46 minutes and it seemed like every possession included the ball going to his hands in the post. If the Lakers are going to give the Spurs a series, it’s going to be on his (very broad) shoulders.
This puts a huge burden on Tiago Splitter. For this series, it won’t matter what Splitter does on the offensive end, it’s all going to be about his defense on Howard. Tiago has been criticized in the past for being soft and disappearing when the Spurs need him most. This will be his chance to really prove that all of his solid play this season was the true Tiago Splitter and he can show up when it really counts.
To make it truly simple, Tiago needs to force Howard away from the basket (as few dunks as possible) and stay out of foul trouble. I’m sure we’ll see a little bit of Tim Duncan on Howard as well, but it’s in the Spurs’ best interest to not have to throw DeJuan Blair or Matt Bonner at him.
Time for Tiago to earn his big pay bump this offseason.
Point guard: Tony Parker vs. Steve Nash and Steve Blake
The health of both starting point guards is in question as we start the series. Steve Nash is the more serious of the two. His game one status is up in the air right now. Tony Parker will play, but he doesn’t quite seem to be at 100%.
If Parker can return to form, he’s going to run circles around the Laker point guards, completely control the pace of the game and the Spurs win easily. If San Antonio can get out and run, led by Parker, then the Lakers’ roster that lacks depth and youth will struggle to keep up.
However, if Parker is still struggling to return from his injury, then the point guard advantage doesn’t sway as easily in the Spurs’ favor.
I’ve never been impressed with Steve Blake’s NBA career, but he’s had a few good moments. If he can step up to the challenge and Steve Nash comes back strong, then the Lakers take an area of the game that should have been a lock for the Spurs and make it a lot closer to even.
The play of Tony Parker is going to be one of the biggest factors in the Spurs’ playoff success. He’s capable of returning them to the Western Conference Finals and perhaps even farther, but not the way he’s been playing lately.
If he can resume his mid-season status of potential MVP, then the Spurs win easily over the Lakers. If not, well… I guess we’ll see.