The Lakers can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win Tuesday.
ESPN: It’s foolish to draw any conclusions in the Western Conference, where the playoff picture changes in the time it takes to click the refresh button on your browser. But as the regular season draws to a close the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to match results to their ability, which would make them the team to beat. They’re starting to think in those terms, too.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to firmly believe,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said.
They also put themselves atop the Western Conference with a 106-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center Sunday.
The strange thing was how unplayoff-like it felt at the end, with Kobe Bryant sitting out the entire fourth quarter and Tim Duncan heading to the bench for good with 6:40 remaining. But the lack of suspense at the end came about because the Lakers dominated the third quarter, playing some postseason-caliber defense, holding the Spurs to 14 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Defense has been the biggest question mark for the Lakers. They’ve been burned by quick point guards (Tony Parker was at it again in the first half, when he scored 18 points). They have failed to rotate out to 3-point shooters. They haven’t had a full-time presence in the middle since Andrew Bynum went down in January.
That changed in the third quarter Sunday. They stayed in front of Parker, who scored only two more points. Pau Gasol blocked a Duncan hook shot, one of 13 misses by Duncan.
“I think we’ve found our defensive identity,” Bryant said. “We’re very aggressive. We have a tremendous amount of versatility in wings and bigs who are athletic and long. We can get after guys.”