POINT GUARD: Tony Parker vs. Derek Fisher
While the Spurs of yesteryear relied on Duncan to jumpstart their offense, these days, it’s San Antonio’s deadly backcourt combo of Parker and Ginobili that serve as the team’s primary scorers. Parker leads the defending champs in scoring through two rounds, averaging nearly 24 points a game while shooting 48% from the field. By comparison, the Lakers’ Fisher has been just as good filling his role as a steady veteran and deadeye shooter in the playoffs. Averaging over 14 points a game—fourth best on the team—Derek continues to show why he is one of the clutchest players in the game today as evidenced by his late three-point barrage in the team’s overtime loss to the Jazz in Game 4 of the Second Round. Moreover, Fisher has been a Spurs killer throughout his career. See: “0.4”
SHOOTING GUARD: Bruce Bowen vs. Kobe Bryant
Although certainly limited on offense, Bowen is a lethal defender and has a proven track record of playing well against the Lakers in the playoffs. While there is certainly not much love between Bruce and Kobe, even the Lakers MVP has given the Spurs guard credit for his defensive prowess in past playoff matchups. However, while Bowen may be able to slow Bryant down, there’s no way to stop a motivated Kobe—even with an injured back. Plus, with Bowen’s inefficiencies on offense, Bryant should be able to sag off of him, allowing him to help on Ginobili and Parker.
CENTER: Tim Duncan vs. Pau Gasol
Duncan has been a stalwart for the Spurs during their four championship runs over the past decade. While his playoff numbers are down from past seasons—15 points and 13 rebounds—TD is still the man who makes it all work for San Antonio, anchoring a much smaller Spurs front line than they’ve had in recent seasons. Meanwhile, after a few less than stellar performances in the opening games of the Jazz series, Gasol played well in Games 5 and 6. The Lakers will need Pau to body up against Duncan so they aren’t forced to throw more than one defender at him, thereby creating open shots for the Spurs’ three point shooters.
POWER FORWARD: Francisco Oberto vs. Lamar Odom
While Kobe was brilliant throughout the Second Round, Odom was arguably the Lakers’ best player on the floor for extended stretches against the Jazz, averaging an impressive 18 points and 12 rebounds in the series. Moreover, Lamar came through when the Lakers needed it the most in Game 5 with the Jazz threatening in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Oberto, on the other hand, wasn’t a big factor in the Spurs’ series victory over the Hornets, tallying just three points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of play. As a result, the Lakers should have a huge advantage at power forward if Lamar can play anywhere near the level he played at in the Second Round.
SMALL FORWARD: Manu Ginobili vs. Vladimir Radmanovic
After spending much of the season as the Spurs’ sixth man, Ginobili is back in San Antonio’s starting lineup heading into the Western Conference Finals. The versatile guard/forward averaged a team-leading 21 points in the Second Round, including a clutch 26 points in the team’s Game Seven win over New Orleans. Although Radmanovic probably won’t spend significant time guarding Manu, the Lakers will need the sharpshooter to hold down the fort at the three spot. After a rough series against the Jazz—Games 5 and 6 aside—L.A. needs his outside shooting to spread the floor for the rest of his Lakers teammates.
BENCH: Udoka, Horry, Barry, Finley, Thomas vs. Vujacic, Turiaf, Walton, Farmar, Ariza
Both the Lakers and Spurs have above average benches, albeit very different ones. For the Spurs, their bench is comprised of savvy, playoff-tested veterans while the Lakers’ bench is young and largely inexperienced. All year long, L.A. has been able to weather injury after injury thanks to their versatile group of reserves, but the same bench hasn’t displayed the same level of consistency during the first two rounds in the playoffs. With both teams featuring three All-Star caliber players in their starting lineups, the series may very well come down to whose bench outperforms the others.’