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Let’s Call It Even

By Jeff Koch on April 18, 2012.

We thumped the short-handed Lakers, probably like we should have at home last week. The truth is, the two teams aren’t nearly as far apart as each game might like you to think. And with no Kobe playing, let’s just call it even, move on, and hope that Friday’s game might bring a little more clarity to what could actually transpire if the two teams meet in the playoffs.

Speaking of Kobe…I know this is going to sound weird, but I almost fear the Lakers more without Kobe than with. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe is the best player on the team, and the team is infinitely better with Kobe. But when Kobe doesn’t play, Bynum and Gasol have more freedom to run roughshod over us (exposing probably our biggest weakness, frontcourt size and depth, though just how big of a weakness that is is usually overblown), and players like Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace are able to get more involved in the offense and do things they wouldn’t normally do. In other words, the team becomes more diverse, more unpredictable, and more balanced.

Plus, whereas Artest in the post or Bynum and Gasol anywhere exposes flaws in our defense, wing stoppers/players that might guard Kobe happens to be one of our great strengths. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson, and Manu Ginobili are all above-average one-on-one defenders, and could all get a crack at Kobe. With that many players to stick on him, I’d like our chances.

On the other end, the Spurs won’t lose too many games in which Parker plays like that. 29 points on 14-20 shooting with 13 assists? Are you joking? That is an insane stat line. I’ve often said (and probably written) that Ginobili and Duncan are more important to what the Spurs do in a systemic sense and in the longview, and Ginobili is certainly our “closer”; but if Parker continues to play at or close to this level, there will be no games to close! In the last 3 games, the contests were mostly in hand at halftime. Against the Warriors, Duncan only had to play his first shift. By the time Ginobili comes in for his first stint, we sometimes already have a double digit lead. Against the Suns and Warriors, we barely had to touch our main players in the second half. That’s insane.

One other thing I’ve noticed is that we’re creeping closer and closer towards playoff rotations. It’s a subtle shift, but both Parker and Duncan are playing for longer stints in the first quarter. Ginobili is coming in a bit earlier and getting more time with the other starters. The second quarter is often starting with the bench. Splitter is anchoring the second unit (often with Ginobili and/or Gary Neal). This is happening mostly in the first half because, as stated above, we don’t often need it in the second half.

The other interesting thing to come out of last night was the first ever Splitter-Duncan starting front court. The results, while not bad, were not overwhelmingly good. I encourage you to read Andrew McNeill’s wonderful piece over at 48MoH, in which he shows with advanced stats that Bonner with Duncan is pretty much as good defensively as Bonner with Splitter and Duncan with Splitter. I don’t know what Bonner’s secret is, but he doesn’t suck defensively like most people want to think when they see a funny looking red head.

My hunch is that Splitter will remain the anchor of the second unit, and that Bonner and Diaw will be the other two bigs getting most of the playing time, with a nod towards Bonner.

Another game tonight in Sacramento. The Spurs now control their own path to the #1 seed in the West.

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