The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers meet in the first round of the playoffs as old rivals that haven't faced off in a playoff series since the 2008 Western Conference finals. The teams most recently played on April 14, with the Lakers claiming the only victory in their three-game season series. L.A. will attempt to recreate four more of those wins starting Sunday.
The Lakers will be without Kobe Bryant, but Steve Nash's status remains in question as the point guard deals with hamstring, hip, and back issues. Even without Bryant and potentially Nash, ESPN's J.A. Adande believes there's still a great deal at stake for Dwight Howard, who will have his first chance to prove he can be the next franchise player for the Lakers.
While the Lakers may have gotten the matchup they desired in the Spurs, ESPN's 5-on-5 has four of its five predictions going the Spurs' way in five games. Ethan Sherwood Strauss disagreed, taking the Lakers in a six-game series and believing the post presence of both Howard and Pau Gasol would be too much. The caveat? If Nash doesn't return, the prediction never happened.
Sean Highkin over at USA Today predicts the Spurs will win in six games, with the loss of Bryant being too much of an obstacle to overcome. If the Lakers do win, however, he puts it on the shoulders of the Lakers' frontcourt of Howard and Gasol, and the Spurs failing to deliver on offense. All five experts at CBS Sports also predict the Spurs will win the series. Capping off the Spurs' near clean sweep in the predictions, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen also predicts the Spurs will take the series, giving it to San Antonio in five games.
The Lakers will have to work against the odds, while the Spurs have consistency and a system in place to take the odds into their own hands. San Antonio appears to be heavy favorites in this one.
Q & A With Chris Clark of Silver Screen and Roll
With Steve Nash's status in question, how confident are you that Steve Blake can continue producing at the level he has been? Can he contain Tony Parker?
With his top two scoring performances of the season in the last two games, you'd have to think that Blake would be unable to keep up that level of production, but the rise is more usage than anything else. You take more shots, you score more points. Do I think Blake can score 20 points a game on 67 percent TS like he did against San Antonio on Sunday? Probably not. But I think he can do better than he did on Wednesday, when he shot just 30 percent from the field, even though he did score 24 points. And no, he can't contain Tony Parker, but its not his job to. If anybody will contain TP, it'll be Dwight preventing those layups by taking up space in the lane. Steve Blake can do a decent enough job of staying close enough to Parker to at least stay in the conversation if Dwight slows him down.
Do you believe the matchup between Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan will decide the series? What are your final predictions?
Q&A With J.R. Wilco of of Pounding the Rock
With Kobe Bryant out and Steve Nash's status uncertain, the Lakers have obvious health issues, but those might be overshadowing the Spurs' own injury concerns. How healthy are Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker heading into this series?
It's a bit of a mystery. Tony played in the last regular season game and looked ... alright but not great. Manu played 12 minutes and one bucket and a really nice assist. What nagging injuries they still have that'll keep them from being able to play at their best will likely only reveal themselves during the games.
Because the Lakers are the Lakers and because the Spurs didn't finish the season strong while resting injured players, LA is a trendy upset pick among analysts. Do the Lakers stand a chance? What is your prediction for who wins the series and in how many games?