The (52-18) Los Angeles Lakers begin their last major road test of the regular season on  a five game minefield starting with a match-up against the (42-27) San Antonio Spurs.

It amazes me that the national perception is that the defending NBA Champions just aren’t the same team from last year. The fact of the matter is that this team has 52 wins despite allowing several winnable games to slip through their fingers.

Both the Spurs and the Lakers are veteran-laden teams that have had to deal with the setback of multiple injuries although both have won seven of their last ten games and are rounding into playoff shape.

The teams split the first two games in the series; the Lakers beat the Spurs 101-89 in their previous meeting without the services of Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant; the game’s best player. The win was a total team effort with everyone making a contribution. Los Angeles had five players score in double digits, led by a monster game by Pau Gasol who posted a line that included 21 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots.

The Lakers are on a six game winning streak; this is a playoff game and the Purple and Gold need to play this game with that mentality. The Lakers needs a repeat performance from Pau Gasol; he recently won the NBA Player of the Week after averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds. The truth is everyone on the team has to re-dedicate themselves to the task at hand and tap into the mental toughness that the Lakers Nation knows that this team possesses.

The Spurs are playing good basketball right now and will be favored to win at home; normally you have to concern yourself with their big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. However, the Spurs won’t have the services of Tony Parker tonight, but George Hill has filled in nicely and recently put up a career-high 27 points; he is averaging 14.9 points and 4.8 assists.

San Antonio is currently in the sixth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Spurs are two losses away from the eighth seed, but remain a team that can’t be taken for granted.

Based on both teams scoring output and defense Los Angeles should win a tightly fought contest.

The way to ensure a win, the Lakers need to play aggressive, with a sense of urgency on both ends of the court to secure an early lead which will take the crowd out of the game, eliminate the mental mistakes, take care of the ball, and make their free throws.

The Lakers need to use excellent ball movement and excellent player movement to outwork the Spurs. The Lakers have to do a better job of stopping the dribble penetration to stop ‘the drive to the basket and kick out for the open jump shot’ opportunities.

The defense needs to be extended out to the three point line. It is my belief that the Lakers will go 5-0 on this road trip and start to separate themselves from their so-called competition.

This is the time of the year that the Los Angeles Lakers live for, the Purple and Gold will rise to the occasion.

Tip-off: 6:30 PM PST

Television -

  • Los Angeles: ESPN & KCAL 9 (Joel Myers & Stu Lantz)
  • San Antonio: ESPN & My35 (Bill Land & Sean Elliott)

Radio -

  • Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (Spero Dedes & Mychal Thompson)
  • San Antonio: WOAI-AM 1200 (Bill Schoening)

Injuries -

Lakers:

  • Andrew Bynum (Left Achilles Strain) Out
  • Kobe Bryant ( Avulsion fracture of his right index finger, Sprained Left Ankle)
  • Shannon Brown (Sprained Right Thumb) listed Day-to-Day
  • Ron Artest (Sprained Left Thumb) listed Day-to-Day
  • Lamar Odom (Sprained Shoulder) listed Day-to-Day
  • Luke Walton (Pinched Nerve, Back) Out, but did practice with the team

Spurs:

* PG Tony Parker (Broken Finger) Out