The first-round NBA playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers was supposed to be a good match-up for the seventh-seeded Lakers, but injuries that seem to have no end for L.A. coupled with the Spurs healing and peaking at the right time have created significant disparity.
Tony Parker, who was a non-factor in the final regular season game against the Lakers at Staples Center on April 14, in which the Spurs lost, was the picture of health on Wednesday night and finished with a game-high 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting.
After the game, he spoke with TNT's David Aldridge about his improving health (via TNT's broadcast of Game 2):
"By far, by far," he said following the game when asked if this was the best he's felt since he returned to the lineup from a severely sprained ankle. "It's been a battle but I'm happy we got the win. It's very important we protect home court, so hopefully we can do the same thing in L.A."
Coupled with Parker's return to form is the re-emergence of Manu Ginobili, who for the second straight game sparked the Spurs' bench with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds. For San Antonio, just as things looked to be at their worst, head coach Gregg Popovich's strategy of resting players throughout the regular season is paying big dividends at the right time.
On the other hand, the Lakers literally limped into the playoffs, and no injury was more significant than the loss of their superstar Kobe Bryant. But L.A. had good attitude and pressed on, seeing ancillary players like Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks step up in the Black Mamba's absence to will the Lakers into the playoffs by winning their last two games.
Unlike the Spurs, though, things have only gotten more troublesome in Laker-land.
By the end of Game 2, Blake, Meeks and Steve Nash were all injured. That's not even considering the fact that the Lakers are already missing Bryant and that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are nursing nagging injuries of their own.
Ironically, key reserve Jordan Hill returned to his first action since suffering what was thought to be a season-ending hip injury in January, but it's likely a case of too little too late for the player who gives the Lakers instant energy when he's on the floor.
The Lakers are snake-bitten; even the most seasoned veterans such as Nash have never seen anything like it.
"This has far and away been the worst season for injuries I've ever been a part of," he told reporters via Time Warner Cable SportsNet. "Both personally and collectively."
As Nash continues to receive multiple epidurals and grind out tough minutes in hopes of giving the Lakers a lift, he's still struggling to stay on the floor. Both head coaches recognized how much the 39-year-old has battled.
"Steve's one of the all-time great competitors," said Popovich at the post-game press conference via TNT's broadcast of Inside the NBA. "He's going to give everything he's got. If he's not whole, whatever's there he's going to give. That's just who he is. He won't stop competing."
Mike D'Antoni echoed that sentiment.
"He’s battling. He’s not even close to 100 percent. He’s giving it all he’s got," he said.
But perhaps it was Blake, who has been the most pleasant surprise since Bryant went down, who summed it up best after suffering a strained hamstring in Game 2.
"You almost can't even be surprised anymore," he said via Time Warner Cable SportsNet following the game. "It's been that kind of year. I'm pretty emotional about it right now."