I’m not sure how I feel about a Lakers, Spurs grudge match on a Sunday afternoon. If I were to make a list of things I really dislike, the San Antonio Spurs would fall somewhere between that sore you get on the roof of your mouth after eating Captain Crunch and watching Lifetime. Aren’t Sunday’s supposed to be relaxing? Last time I checked, there’s nothing peaceful about watching Manu Ginobili flop around like Nemo. However, given the pleasant outcome, I’m not complaining.
Well, sort of.
With almost exactly half the season in the rear-view, the Lakers are an impressive 35-8. Project that out over a season, and you’ve got a team likely to eclipse the 65-win mark. For the Lakers to get there, they would need to go 30-9 or better the rest of the way. Since 1990, only six teams have won 65 or more games during the regular season. Only one of those teams didn’t go on to win the NBA Championship that same year – The Dallas Mavericks in 2006-2007.
As for the five that did, Phil Jackson was the guy in the over-sized recliner on the sideline representing four of those teams. A good omen? Absolutely. Enough to pre-order the SI Championship package? Not so fast. Each of those six teams also had one other thing in common: They played defense.
Granted, Tony Longoria and his crew of senior citizens shot a dismal 37.5% from the floor and an even worse 21.7% from downtown on Sunday. However, the Spurs were shooting like Dick Cheney. It appeared that the rims were to blame as much as the Lakers defense. Vladimir Radmanovic still has his astronaut suit on, and for all the talk about a rejuvenated Lakers defense this season, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of consistent energy on that side of the floor.
In the Lakers eight losses, they’ve given up an average of right under 109 points per game. In their thirty-five wins, they only give up an average of 92 points per game, an eye-opening 17 point difference. It almost goes without saying that the Lakers effort on the defensive end of the floor will be the story of the season.
After a home game on Tuesday against Charlotte, the Lakers play twelve of their next sixteen games away from Staples Center. During that stretch, they’ll be dropping it to say hello to Boston, Cleveland, Utah, Phoenix and Denver, all good teams looking to avenge recent losses to the Lakers. By the end of February, we’ll likely know a lot more about the character and defensive toughness of this Lakers squad.
In the games to come, can the Lakers slow down guard penetration? Rotate to wide-open shooters? Take it personally when guys are having career nights against them? If the history books have taught us anything, it’s that we have the right guy calling the shots from the bench.
Let’s just hope the other fourteen guys are listening.