2011 NBA Playoffs: What Do Spurs, Lakers Losses Mean?

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It’s said that the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in Game One of the Western Conference playoffs was less of a shock than the Los Angeles Lakers, the No. 2 seed, losing to the New Orleans Hornets 109-100 on Sunday. I, for one, agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

Even as the Spurs were without Manu Ginobili on Sunday against the Grizzlies, if you asked anyone close to the Grizz heading into the playoffs they’d tell you that Ginobili or not, the Spurs were the team Memphis wanted to face in the first round. They fully believe that they can knock off the Spurs, and as I wrote in my NBA Playoff preview, my head and my heart both feel as the Grizzlies are on their way to winning this series. 

A Game One victory, however, doesn’t mean the Grizzlies can now coast in this series. Speaking to the media after Game One, Shane Battier said that he’s well aware that the Spurs are going to come back, as he put it, “like a hornet’s nest.” I couldn’t agree with him more. The Spurs expect Manu Ginobili to be ready for Wednesday’s Game Two matchup in San Antonio. That, however, doesn’t mean the Spurs will turn on cruise control either. San Antonio first and foremost needs to figure out how to contain Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the league’s top interior scoring tandem, in the paint.

Both Gasol and Randolph combined to score 49 points on 19-of-25 shooting in the game. The presence of Ginobili won’t help to limit the Grizzlies’ dominance in the paint. What the Grizz need to concern themselves with is their defending of the 3-point line. The Spurs hit just six threes on Sunday, but that in part had to do with the fact that they were without one of the league’s best at making the defense collapse, opening up the 3-point shot. Tony Allen will have his hands full on Wednesday guarding Ginobili, while the Spurs will lean on him in a must-win situation.

It’s hard enough having to beat the Grizz two times in Memphis, let alone three. That’s why I think the Spurs need to win on Wednesday if they want to compete in this series. And while they’ll continue to fail to lockdown Zach Randolph, they have to find a way to contain Marc Gasol. He, not Randolph, caused Tim Duncan to second-guess his performance during the post-game press conference.

Another team with a Gasol problem is the Lakers. If Pau Gasol can’t get himself righted in Game Two, he may no longer be known as “Pau Gasol.” We might have to start calling him “Marc Gasol’s older brother.”

In Game One against the Hornets on Sunday, Gasol was outplayed by journeyman big Aaron Gray. It was so bad, that Kobe Bryant called out Gasol after the game. With just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting, Gasol needs to take a page out of the Marc Gasol playbook and start to show some aggression in the paint.

The Lakers should be in better shape than the Spurs, especially considering the Hornets are already without their second best player, David West, and might be without 7-footer Aaron Gray (ankle) in Game Two. They may have the best player in the series, believe it or not, in Chris Paul, but his supporting cast isn’t as proficient as Kobe Bryant’s.

I still see the Lakers winning this series, possibly in five games, but they have some work to do. Derek Fisher cannot guard Chris Paul. In fact, no one on the Lakers can. They have to let him get his shots, but have to figure out how to equalize his playmaking. The Hornets’ bench shot 16-of-22 from the floor. Not because they are all high efficient scorers, but because the Lakers weren’t closing the passing lanes and they wound up letting Paul get the offense set. Again, right now, Paul may be the best player in this series — not of all-time, Lakers fans, but in his current state. He’ll get his. It’s the complimentary players who the Lakers need to start locking down on.

It was a tough weekend for both the Lakers and Spurs, and it’s not going to be easy for either to climb out of their one-game hole. But neither faces an insurmountable deficit. I have more faith in the Lakers righting their ship than I do the Spurs, who I think might be on their way to losing in what could end up being one of the great playoff series of all time.