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On Cake, Having and Eating

By Jeff Koch on April 21, 2012.

If there was any game between the Lakers and the Spurs to take information away from, it would have been last night’s, with both teams at full-strength and having already sussed each other out in prior games.

The results were very encouraging.

There were only two things I wanted to learn from last night’s game vis-a-vis a potential playoff match-up between the two teams:

  1. What would the big man rotation look like?
  2. How would Leonard (and to a lesser extent, Green) do guarding Kobe Bryant?

On both counts, I was happy with the results.

Again, Pop started Duncan and Splitter, and again, the results were underwhelming, though certainly not bad (and much better than a Duncan-Blair starting front court). While the defense was good, the offense clearly doesn’t work as cleanly with Duncan and Splitter together. Splitter can basically only function in pick-and-roll and in the post, so Duncan becomes the de facto high post player. Last night, when his 17-foot jump shot is stroking, it works out. And while he’s been hitting that shot very effectively all season, it’s not where he is best served in the offense.

In the second half, however, he started Diaw and Duncan together. And I think that’s the answer. Diaw works great as a Bonner-like floor spacer on offense, especially now that he’s getting more aggressive looking for his own offense. (He had several great drives to the rim last night.) He’s still an amazingly creative and effective passer. But it’s on defense where he’s been the revelation. For whatever reason, he seems to be a very good one-on-one defender against the likes of Gasol, Dirk, and other similar highly-skilled big men. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in bulk, able to push them around a bit and also not give up ground. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what makes him so good, but the results always seem to be positive. The third quarter was when we made our big move, blowing the game open, and it coincided nicely with Diaw getting the start.

Another nice thing about using Diaw is that it keeps the rotation pretty consistent to what it has been all year, with Bonner coming in first and getting some time with Duncan, and then Splitter spelling Duncan and getting to be the focal point of the second unit in both the post and in pick and roll, where he has shown great chemistry with Neal, Ginobili, and Parker.

As to the second question, I loved Leonard’s defense on Kobe. Loved it. He stayed tight, wasn’t overly aggressive, and made Kobe take tough shots. Some of which he made. Which will happen with a player of Kobe’s brilliance. He even got a couple of steals. With Green, Ginobili, and Jackson to also throw at Kobe (and other great wing players), I feel good about our chances.

More importantly, though, might be where last night’s game fits into context for the team heading into the playoffs. I’m going to give you four lists of numbers:

10     //     35     35     30
14     //     24     21     21
21     //     11     15     15
21     //     35     31     26
25     //      0     25     17
24     //     26     28     25

Any guesses? The first column of numbers is the margin of victory of each of our games in this six-game win streak. The average margin of victory is 19.2. That’s insane.

The next three columns are the minutes in each of those games for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, respectively. Duncan is averaging just 22 minutes per game (while sitting out one game) in the stretch; Parker 26 min/gm; Ginobili about 23 min/gm. That’s incredibly low.

These are important numbers in the rest vs. winning to get the number one seed battle currently going on for the Spurs. There’s certainly no need to push the key player’s minutes this last week (and risk injury) to get the number one seed. However, there is value to keeping the players sharp and the execution precise by logging minutes and getting the reps in.

What the numbers tell us is that there may not be a decision to be made, necessarily. With the way we’re winning games (and with only one opponent left with anything to play for, Phoenix on Wednesday), we may be able to get Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili some minutes in each game (between 10-25, depending on the game and situation) to stay sharp, but also few enough to stay fresh. And since we’re a buzzsaw at the current moment, we might end up winning these games anyways, in spite of Pop’s total disinterest in getting that top seed.

And that is what we call having your cake and eating it, too.

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