The San Antonio Spurs (40-8) will face the NBA defending champion Los Angeles Lakers (34-15) tonight in Los Angeles in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
The Lakers will be looking for revenge tonight as the last time these two teams faced off in December it was a 97-82 loss for the Lakers in San Antonio.
The Lakers were pegged as the clear favorite in the West heading into the season but the Spurs have stole the spotlight with their start to the season and league leading record.
Los Angeles has struggled against the best teams in the NBA and add the fact Andrew Bynum suffered a bone bruise and is questionable for tonight's contest makes this contest even more important for the Spurs to strike while Los Angeles is down. Moreover, Los Angeles has been dealing with other injuries to key players such as Matt Barnes, Ron Artest trade rumors, and all adds up to Los Angeles not looking like the dominant team as in seasons past.
As for the Spurs, they will be looking to get back on the winning track after suffering only their eighth loss of the season to the Portland Trail Blazers and extend their lead in the West over the Lakers as they continue their annual Rodeo Road Trip.
To talk about tonight's contest, I turn to friend of Project Spurs Rey Moralde of The No Look Pass the best Lakers site on the Internet.
In this Q&A, Rey talks about the Artest trade rumors, if the Lakers are pressing the panic button, what it will take for Los Angeles to get the win and more. To read the Q&A I did with Rey click HERE to visit The No Look Pass.
Jeff: How serious are these Ron Artest trade rumors out of Los Angeles? If true does this mean the Lakers are pushing the panic button?
Rey: I don't know how serious they are and I'm not one to speculate. Didn't Rajon Rondo supposedly want out of Boston? He's still here, right?
Not sure if the team is pushing the panic button but the fans are pretty, pretty close to it. The Lakers are not playing their best, which I'm sure you've seen. There's even more reason to panic if the Lakers don't beat the Spurs since L.A. has a terrible record against the top teams.
(note: Artest has said he is happy in Los Angeles and has denied wanting a trade out of LA)
Former Lakers' GM Jerry West recently called out the Lakers defense or lack thereof. Did you agree with his thoughts?
Oh, they can definitely do better and I'm pretty positive that they can turn it up to the level where they were in last season's playoffs. They're missing some key guys (Barnes, Bynum is in and out)... but we also gotta realize that the Lakers have played essentially an extra season in the last 3 1/2 years. They're going for their fourth consecutive Finals and that hasn't been done since the 80s. They're tired so they gotta reach down and get those third and fourth winds.
How would you assess the Lakers past the midway point of the season?
Record-wise, it's what I expected. Against top teams, though? Another story. Then again, the Lakers faced this sort of crisis last year (including the trade rumors... though there was no one "claiming they wanted out" last year). I'd like to see them win this game to regain their confidence. By then, the Laker fans can go away from the panic button for at least, a week or so.
The Lakers trail the Spurs in the West standings. Can the Lakers catch the Spurs for the top seed in the West?
I think the Lakers will make a run at the end of the season but I don't think they'll catch the Spurs. The Lakers have a tough road trip ahead before the All-Star break and by then, the gap would be too big to catch for L.A.
Let's talk about tonight's game. The last time these two teams met in San Antonio, it was a game where the Lakers got blownout. What adjustments should Los Angeles make to get the win tonight?
Shot distribution. Only two guys attempted more than 10 shots. We expected Kobe Bryant to take 'em, sure... and then you had Shannon Brown chucking shots (1/11). Pau Gasol didn't even have more than 8 shots. 15 assists by the Lakers in that game. They have to get everybody involved.
Defensively, they need to keep the waterbug guards in check. Parker, Hill, and Neal were getting some looks. Ginobili was great at getting everyone involved. And RJ was also key in the previous game. Also, can someone box out DeJuan Blair?
And there's the talk of focus by Kobe. It's now bigger than ever now that Ron Artest trade rumors are going around. The Lakers should treat this like a Playoff game, in my view; get focused, play the game the right way (go inside-out), keep Pau happy with more touches, and, now that it's apparent, keep Ron happy by letting him get more run and a rhythm into the game.
I would like to say that it would be encouraging that as long as they play better, even in a loss... they would be okay. But now, I say they need this win more than ever to squash anything negative that's going on with the team.