From the looks of things right now, the Los Angeles Lakers could be playoff bound in 2013. Riding the courageous performances of all-time great Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have moved on up into the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
If they were to hold onto that spot a few days longer, their first round matchup would be Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.
Few expect the Lakers to make it past such a dynamic group of players in the Spurs. With their veterans like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili hopefully healthy they will be incredibly deep with talent coming off the bench and a very tough out.
One highly regarded NBA legend seems to think the Lakers could handle the Spurs, though. According to ESPN, former Laker guard Magic Johnson has predicted the Lakers to beat the Spurs if they were to indeed meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
While that seems obvious because he is a former Laker himself, to make that type of bold prediction when you are currently in a position where you must be objective while analyzing professional basketball is a fairly gutsy call.
Maybe Johnson knows something we don’t. Maybe he has had a talk or two with Kobe and his teammate Dwight Howard about rising to the occasion. After all, we all know that Howard is going to have to raise his level of play if they Lakers even have a cry in the world for making it past the Spurs.
Howard has had his games this year where he has shown flashes of the guy we saw playing for the Orlando Magic. But let me remind you, there haven’t been many. It is confusing to a lot of fans and analysts why Howard has not been into the game mentally. At least that is what it has seemed like to spectators.
It is curious why a guy nearly seven feet tall and with the physical stature of Howard cannot perform at the level he performed at just a year ago on a different team. He hasn’t changed much physically. He can still lock down the paint and frighten the living daylights out of smaller slashing players on the way to the basket.
Another question that Johnson must know the answer to is whether or not point guard Steve Nash is going to be healthy. At full health, Nash is by far and away the best option the Lakers have had at point guard in several years; possibly the best Bryant has played with his entire career.
If Nash can stay at the top of his game and continue to strive towards full health, that’s a step in the right direction for the Lakers.
While all of these “ifs” and “buts” sound nice and intriguing, there still lies the biggest problem of all: The San Antonio Spurs are good. They are really good.
Aside from their top three names, they have had multiple players step up all season long when called upon. Most notably, Kawhi Leonard has been the consistent glue player for the Spurs. He has been able to play excellent defense on some of the best players in the West as well as rebound the ball at a high level. Also, Leonard has shown great development in his offensive game. Not only can he shoot well, but from outside too. His three point game is much improved and can help the Spurs go further into the playoffs.
Point guard Nando de Colo, center Tiago Splitter, shooting guard Danny Green and point guard Patty Mills are a few others who will step in and play well for the Spurs among even a couple more guys. The Spurs represent the epitome of depth. Popovich has done what many coaches fail to do, and that is to get every single player to buy into their specific role and play that role to perfection.
Only time will tell, but Johnson’s prediction seems to be one of the boldest I have come across in quite some time. Spurs fans can only hope that their squad has taken time to listen to such an outlandish statement as they prepare for a title run.