Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

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SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio: 58-24, two seed in the West

L.A. Lakers: 45-37, seven seed in the West

SEASON SERIES

The Spurs took two of the three regular season meetings between the tams, however the Lakers won the most important (and most recent) matchup to date, beating San Antonio this past Sunday to help secure their place in the postseason.

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio: Plenty of players dinged up, including Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who have both missed extensive time recently due to injury. But the Spurs are expected to have their full complement of players available when the series tips off on Sunday.

L.A. Lakers: Kobe Bryant is out for the season with a torn Achilles injury. Steve Nash is out with what the official report calls “hamstring pain and weakness,” but there are issues in his hip and back which are causing the pain. Nash has had epidural injections the past few days, and hopes to be back for this series. It sounds, however, as though the Lakers should be prepared to go it without him, at least in the early games of this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Spurs: offense 105.9 (7th in NBA), defense 99.2 (3rd in NBA)
Lakers: offense 105.6 (8th in NBA), defense 103.5 (18th in NBA)

Differential: Spurs +6.8 (3rd in NBA), Lakers +2.0 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR LOS ANGELES:

Team defense against Parker and Ginobili: The Lakers have been a defensive disaster for the better part of this season. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are among the best at creating havoc with their dribble penetration and ability to score and distribute, so the rotations defensively need to be at an all-time high this season for the Lakers to have a chance in slowing what the Spurs do offensively.

Use Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to your advantage offensively: Few teams have two talented and skilled bigs as the Lakers do with Howard and Gasol, and they need to force the ball into the post offensively to punish the Spurs inside. Tim Duncan is only one defender, and isn’t to be feared as he has in seasons past. If San Antonio doubles, the Lakers need to swing the ball to the open shooters on the perimeter and knock down the open looks, especially from three-point distance.

Steve Nash: The health of Nash is uncertain at this point, and based on available information regarding his injury, it doesn’t look good as far as him contributing at a high level in this series. The Lakers will need him, however, if they are to have any chance of beating the Spurs any more than once or twice.

THREE KEYS FOR SAN ANTONIO:

Health above all else: The Spurs have proven that they have the pieces to compete at the highest level this season. They’ve played a surprisingly low number of games with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard all healthy at the same time, so having their best players at full strength should make the Spurs as tough an out as there is in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Crank up the defense: The Lakers are struggling to find an offensive identity with Kobe Bryant sidelined due to injury, and the Spurs need to keep it that way. L.A. shot just 36.7 percent from the field in an overtime win over the Rockets, and the Spurs should be able to cause many more problems for L.A. defensively than Houston ever could in its wildest dreams.

Tony Parker: Parker had an MVP-type season for the Spurs, and made the offense go at a level very few teams can replicate from the point guard position. If Parker can perform as he has when healthy earlier this season, his dribble penetration should cause a world of pain for a Lakers team that has struggled with its defensive rotations for the entire season.

OUTLOOK

It seems as though the Lakers might be able to hang around for a few games in this series, but honestly, if the Spurs’ key players are healthy and are able to perform anywhere near 100 percent, that’s going to be a tall order. San Antonio has a history of losing playoff series in recent years where it has been favored to win, but this Lakers team doesn’t seem to have the right combination of players playing at a high enough level at the right time to continue that trend.

PREDICTION

Lakers get a win or two, but won’t come close to challenging for the series. Spurs in 6, though if they win in five it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.