Lakers vs. Spurs: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol play below potential in Game 1

Ronald Martinez

The Lakers' big men are the key to the series, and if Game 1 is any indicator, that's not a good thing. Although Dwight Howard maintains hope.

With Kobe Bryant injured, the Los Angeles Lakers' gameplan is clear: get the ball into the post, where you have an incredibly skilled 7-footer -- Pau Gasol -- and one of the most imposing physical specimens in the league -- Dwight Howard. Their best hope for offense would come from the post, from Pau's creativity or from Dwight's strength -- or some combination of the two.

Kobe Bryant knew it:

The guys on the ESPN halftime set knew it. But from start to finish, the should-be-elite pair struggled, as they wouldn't -- but more often, couldn't -- get the job done on the block. On paper, Gasol and Howard had reasonable days. Howard had 20 points on 12 shots, and that isn't Hack-A-Howard beefed. Gasol was less effective, with as many points -- 16 -- as shots. But that's not as good as it could have been. And with the Lakers' shooters missing everything, the 36 points weren't close to enough. They didn't get the ball in the post frequently enough, and when they did, they didn't use it as well as they could have.

A good percentage of their struggles was due to the Spurs. For starters, it was tough to get the ball to Howard and Gasol in the first place. San Antonio's bigs switched coverages on them, sometimes fronting, sometimes pushing them out to 15-20 feet from the basket, always aggressive. Both Howard and Gasol committed several offensive fouls jockeying for position, and there were turnovers on entry passes as well. And when they got the ball, double teams came. Howard would have four turnovers, Gasol six. And that wasn't all when it came to bad decisions. Gasol would have Matt Bonner on him as the Spurs played with smaller lineups, and he often opted not to go to work on the three-point specialist not noted for his defense. Both settled for jump shots. Pau missed a lot, and the fact Dwight was taking any in the first place is somewhat mind-boggling to everybody besides Howard.

Here's what Dwight Howard had to say about the team's post play after the game.

Those bigs will wear down from trying to fight every possession. We've just gotta do a good job, myself and Pau, to not get those offensive fouls and read the defense. We've got to set up so that we can counter that. We'll do a better job the next game.

Barring a quick-fix solution to torn Achilles tendons, that's exactly the mentality he should have. There should be hope here. There were a few moments of brilliance between the pair, with several of Gasol's six assists going to Howard, one a humongous alley-oop. And when Gasol actually squared up to the hoop, he often got buckets. If those flashes of ideal play turn into more than flashes, the Lakers have a shot.

More from SB Nation:

Flannery: The pass Melo had to make

Ziller: Blake, Z-Bo play to stalemate

Prada: Deron Williams slices up the Bulls

Courtney Lee's BIG mistake

Denver Stiffs: An electrifying Game 1 win.

Clips Nation: LA buries Memphis

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