Things To Know: Spurs

Things We Already Know:
The Spurs are the defending champions and have won two of the past three NBA championships, but have yet to win the elusive back-to-back title. As one of the Lakers’ oldest nemeses dating back to the Kobe-Shaq era, L.A. fans should already be pretty familiar with the Spurs’ blue-collar style of basketball and the faces that run it. At the top is Greg Popovic, one of the most respected–and intense–coaches in the entire league. Pop consistently has his Spurs playing the best defense in the Western Conference, spearheaded by quiet superstar forward Tim Duncan.

The Lakers beat the Spurs 102-97 in their last meeting at STAPLES Center, but San Antonio was without Tim Duncan and Tony Parker due to injury. In their previous meeting in Texas, the Spurs dominated the Lakers, easily winning 107-92. In that game, Kobe and Odom were both ineffective as L.A. allowed Bruce Bowen to score 23 points. However, in all fairness, while the Spurs were without two of their best three players in the rivals’ last meeting, the first meeting on Nov. 13 came long before Andrew Bynum emerged into the mutli-dimensional force he is today.

Things You Might Not Know:
Duncan only forms one prong of a three headed monster for the Spurs, joined by longtime Laker killers Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Defensive ace Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley round out the San Antonio’s most productive five. However, many fans around the league would be surprised to discover that, despite averaging over 19 points a game and often appearing to be the team’s most potent offensive threat for extended stretches, Ginobili comes off the bench for the Spurs in a super sixth man role.

After Parker, Ginobili and Duncan, the Spurs’ scoring lessens considerably with Michael Finley knocking in 10 a night. San Antonio still has Brent Barry, Francisco Oberto and Matt Bonner, but the once formidable depth of the Spurs looks like a thing of the past.

Things You Need To Know:
The Spurs have struggled of late, losing all five games they’ve played this month against teams over .500. In fact, if the season were to end today, the Lakers would actually face the sixth seeded Spurs in the first round–with home court advantage to boot. Whether it’s simply a case of the injury bug, a thinning bench or old age, San Antonio is certainly not the juggernaut many predicted they would be this season.

Looking ahead to tonight’s game, the Lakers need to prove that they can beat the Spurs inside the AT&T Center when San Antonio is closer to full strength. The team is coming off a solid, momentum-building win over the Nuggets and a win in San Antonio would go along way toward revealing exactly what type of team the Lakers will be without Bynum for the next 7 weeks.