NBA playoff schedule 2013, Spurs vs. Lakers: A rivalry renewed

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs and the Lakers have been serious contenders in the Western Conference playoffs for more than a decade. With Kobe Byrant sidelined due to injury, can Dwight Howard and company knock San Antonio off track?

It's hard to think about high-caliber Western Conference playoff action without thinking about the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers. Since 1998, either the Spurs or Lakers (or both) have appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 13 of 15 NBA seasons. The two franchises have consistently battled at or near the summit of the playoff bracket for the right to go to the NBA Finals, and when Game 1 tips off on Sunday, April 21 (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the rivalry will be renewed.

The Lakers have suffered through disappointing play and multiple injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, but they still managed to hold off the Utah Jazz and even leap past the Houston Rockets to qualify for the postseason. It's a small victory for a team that started the year with big dreams, but it's something. The Spurs also dealt with injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili during the season, and they've yet to really come together as a full squad for an extended period of time.

The Spurs won the head-to-head season series 2-1, but the three games were decided by a total of 10 points. Oddly enough, the only Lakers victory came shortly after Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon, as Dwight Howard posted 26 points and 17 rebounds to best Tim Duncan (23 points, 10 rebounds). The battles between Howard and Duncan could be amazing in this series, as Dwight is finally returning to form and is now the centerpiece of everything the Lakers do. With Boris Diaw out due to injury, it will be an interesting opportunity for Pau Gasol to step up as well.

The problem for L.A. will come in defending Tony Parker. The Lakers have struggled to contain top point guard all season long, and Parker is definitely in the upper echelon. He posted the second-highest scoring average (20.3 points on 58.8 percent true shooting) and the second-highest assist mark (7.6 assists) of his career in 2012-13. The Lakers landed in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency this year, and if Parker breaks down the first line of defense with ease he can create havoc in the paint or kick to open shooters in the corners.

The Spurs are surgical on offense when Parker is playing well, and their top-10 offensive unit should be able to gash L.A.'s defense and make this a short series. San Antonio posted a 35-6 record at home this season, which means the Lakers (16-25 on the road) will have a tough time taking either of the two opening games. If L.A. can steal a game, it would likely have to come at STAPLES Center, where they were 29-12 during the regular season.

Game 1

Sunday, April 21

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

TV, streaming info: ABC

Game 2

Wednesday, April 24

Time: 9:30 p.m. ET

TV, streaming info: TNT

Game 3

Friday, April 26

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

TV, streaming info: ESPN

Game 4

Sunday, April 28

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV, streaming info: TNT

Game 5 (TBD)

Tuesday, April 30

Time: TBD

TV, streaming info: TBD

Game 6 (TBD)

Thursday, May 2

Time: TBD

TV, streaming info: TBD

Game 7 (TBD)

Saturday, May 4

Time: TBD

TV, streaming info: TNT

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