After the tumultuous journey that was the Lakers 2012-2013 regular season, we finally arrive exactly as we planned…on the road at San Antonio without the services of the man most responsible for getting the Lakers there. OK, so maybe Laker fans imagined it going a little bit differently entering the season.

Despite the loss of their star guard, the Lakers have several reasons to be optimistic. The return of Steve Nash provides the Lakers with another shooter along the perimeter to space the floor, which is imperative for a team who will now look to create shots from the post. Expect him to be paired with Steve Blake, who has admirably picked up the slack in the backcourt with his terrific 3 point shooting. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Nash involves his defense as well. Nash’s limited mobility will undoubtedly be tested by the cagey Popovich. Pau Gasol has embraced his newfound responsibilities  in the offense and now is a bonafide triple double threat.

The Spurs struggled to score last time, but several factors work in their favor this time around. Tim Duncan, who has been well rested throughout the year, figures to play 5-7 more minutes than usual. Given his proficiency as a mid range shooter and a defensive scheme that will likely concede those open jump shots, the Spurs are less likely to experience any such drought this time around. While many pundits believe that either Howard or Gasol can match up with Duncan, that likely won’t be the case. Duncan looks revitalized while Gasol still struggles moving laterally. Expect that advantage to be pressed throughout the afternoon. Should Howard guard Duncan, that may lead to foul trouble for the foul-prone center, which would have a catastrophic effect on the Lakers defense.

When a poor shooting big man is on the floor, we can fully expect the fouling strategy to come into play. The strategy has some subtle implications. For all of his struggles at the line, Howard has demonstrated that he’s capable of hitting several free throws in a row. Moreover, even if he just shoots his average, the strategy amounts to 1 point per possession which is essentially the same thing as shooting 50% from the field. Assuming the Spurs do it over the course of say 4 total minutes in the game, the Spurs would get maybe 8 extra possessions.

Add it all up, and I see a high scoring battle where the game could get away from the Lakers.

Play: Over 190.5

Disclaimer: is not responsible for any decisions made, financial or otherwise, based on information or links provided within this article.