For much of the 2000’s, the San Antonio Spurs were the biggest rival to a Los Angeles Lakers franchise that won five championships between 2000 and 2010.
Those rivalries consisted of tough battles between perfect execution created by Hall of Fame coaches. They involved role players perfectly place in situations where their skills were aptly used.
But more than anything, those match-ups were notable for the level of star power. The two greatest players of their generation and two of the most historic franchise stars in NBA history spent their entire careers in Los Angeles and San Antonio, respectively. They wrote their stories on winning teams.
Friday night marks the first game between the Spurs and Lakers since 1996 in which neither Kobe Bryant nor Tim Duncan are on their respective teams. That era is now over and both teams are turning a new page. Their rivalry will continue without the two biggest pieces of their history.
The Spurs still have championship aspirations. They re-tooled their roster in the post-Duncan phase to build around the new emotion-less face of the franchise in Kawhi Leonard. The talent on the roster is undeniable – Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, and former Laker and Luke Walton teammate Pau Gasol make for an intriguing trio around Leonard.
But issues exist in San Antonio and for the first time in a long time, they seem vulnerable. The interior defense is in shambles without Duncan; even with the length generated by Gasol and Aldridge, Julius Randle should be able to replicate his success against the Nets on Friday.
Leonard is currently a one-man wrecking crew offensively. He is the hub of the offense and does not receive much help from a playmaking standpoint. If the Lakers can create a steady gameplan to lower his production and dare other Spurs to beat them, especially on the perimeter, they can have defensive success against this team.
The Lakers are overmatched, yes. But they have exceeded expectations all year long. From a team who started the season at 1000/1 odds of winning a title to one that is sitting at 7-5 including a fairly tough schedule to start the year, these Lakers are anything but predictable.
The match-up will be on Friday at 7:30 PM PST on Spectrum Sportsnet.