Well, the Lakers have a new coach in place, but the Bernie Bickerstaff era will not yet go quietly into the night. Happily for those (like me) who enjoy pressers with a hilariously grumpy coach who doesn't hide any disdain for the comical situation he's been put in, Bickerstaff will remain the interim coach for this contest. And while life under Bickerstaff has been fruitful, his double-digit wins have come against the Warriors and Kings, mediocre teams missing several notable names (Andrew Bogut, Brandon Rush, DeMarcus Cousins). The Spurs are far more talented and their roster is fully loaded, which poses a threat to Staples Center's sudden party atmosphere.
For more insight on the Spurs, I conducted an IM conversation with Andrew McNeill from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog. Below is the transcript.
Andy Kamenetzky: So far, the Spurs have remained, like the Terminator and cockroaches, impossible to kill. How are they making it happen this time around?
Andrew McNeill: A number of things. Good health (so far, fingers crossed). They've got a deep roster that has a number of players who can step up any night. Gary Neal had a career high in scoring against the Blazers on Saturday night, for example. Also, magic.
AK: Just like Gob in "Arrested Development," which reminds me of a brilliant Photoshop sight gag involving Tim Duncan! Speaking of The Big Fundamental, he's putting up some of his best numbers in recent years, and without much of an uptick in minutes. Could this be shaping into a memorable season for Timmy?
AM: It could. I believe pretty strongly his numbers are going to drop off soon, closer to those of last season, mainly because his minutes should drop. But his per-36 minute numbers never change because of Duncan's consistency (and the aforementioned magic). Some have suggested that instead of playing Duncan fewer minutes per game, Gregg Popovich should instead play Duncan heavier minutes and sit him out of more games completely. It's definitely more extreme, but the biggest problem against the Thunder last season was that Duncan couldn't play 40-plus minutes on defense. Once Duncan was out of the game, the Spurs lost their best interior defender.
AK: How do you expect San Antonio's front line to deal with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard?
AM: There's no question the Spurs have had trouble with Andrew Bynum in the past, and now Howard. Amazingly, though, I think they're a little better equipped with Boris Diaw alongside Duncan. Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair really struggle with bigger players, but Diaw uses his -- ahem -- frame well. The more minutes Duncan, Diaw and Tiago Splitter occupy at the two big positions, the better the Spurs will be. Pop has played Duncan and Splitter together some in this early season, which isn't something he's done a lot of the past two seasons. He'll never admit it, but it could be with the idea of playing them together against bigger front lines like the Lakers.
So the Lakers now have Mike D'Antoni. Are they really equipped to be playing his style of ball, outside of Steve Nash?
AK: Well, we won't see the proof positive or negative Tuesday, as the Lakers will still be coached by interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. But ultimately, I do think this roster will succeed under D'Antoni. It may not be the ideal for fun 'n' gunning, but people often forget the Suns used to pick-and-roll opponents to death from a half-court set. Nash, Kobe, Pau and Howard are all excellent pick-and-roll options. And for the past few seasons, this team has needed to develop a habit of initiating its offense quickly. Not necessarily run more, but waste less time getting into sets. Frankly, the Lakers have been a chore to watch over the past couple of seasons, and it's been zero fun for the players. They've desperately needed to enjoy themselves more for quite some time. D'Antoni's approach will help.
Plus, the guy's a pretty good coach. He brings more to the table than just sunshine and moon pies.
AM: Agreed. We talked about Duncan's start to the season. How is Kobe faring this year? Is he aging as well as the Big Fundamental?
AK: He's off to a terrific start. Shooting and facilitating very well, with an active, enthusiastic bounce to his step. And in a nice piece of leadership, he's talked openly about grooming Howard to become the next franchise face. But I have doubts about Kobe's ability to sustain these numbers, particularly the shooting percentages, over the course of the season. He got off to a scorching start last season, as well, then dipped off. The quest could be helped considerably by reduced responsibilities, and if D'Antoni makes a point of limiting his minutes to the low 30s. It's what Kobe would prefer to begin with, but Mike Brown was reluctant to trust the bench enough to make that happen. However, it could be tough either way. Kobe's logged a LOT of mileage, he's already nursing a foot injury and the body inevitably cooperates less as you get older.
Still, for the purposes of this particular game, he'll likely be quite a handful. Speaking of which, who guards 24, and how successfully?
AM: I would expect Danny Green to get the call to start, but you'll probably see some Kawhi Leonard and maybe Stephen Jackson, if we viewers are lucky. This is actually one spot where I miss George Hill. The Spurs absolutely did the right thing trading Hill for the rights to Kawhi, but I loved Hill's tenacity defending Kobe. George didn't back down and did a decent job of harassing Kobe. That said, Green and Kawhi are good defenders continually getting better, and Jack brings that dose of fearlessness and crazy that might be good for a couple of minutes at a time, but I would guess Jack is too slow to stay with Kobe for long.
AK: Well, if there's any justice in the world, we'll see a bit of Metta v. Jack. Because that's just fun.
AM: That's your Frankenstorm right there.
AK: And finally, prediction?
AM: It's tough to say. I can see the Spurs winning because of L.A.'s lack of consistency and new coach. At the same time, I can see the Lakers celebrating a new coach with a big win. But because I'm a homer, I'm going to say Spurs 107-94.
AK: I'm curious to see how the Lakers perform against a top-shelf opponent. The loosened reins under Bickerstaff have paid dividends, but at the same time, these victories against sub-.500 teams might have come with Brown at the helm (albeit with less panache). And with Steves Blake and Nash sidelined, Darius Morris' inexperience might show against an All-Star like Tony Parker. But it was a fun weekend at Bernie's, so I'm gonna let it ride! Lakers 103, Spurs 99.