Purely from a “he doesn’t give a darn what other people think” standpoint, you have to love San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
After all, Pop truly doesn’t give a hoot about having the best record or long winning streaks. All he wants is his players to be in full health come the postseason.
Popovich’s strategy was never more evident than when he not only didn’t play his Big Three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on Monday night in Utah (they combine for 46.8 points a game), he didn’t even bring them on the trip!
That didn’t exactly make Spurs backers happy, as they went off as four-point favorites but lost, 91-84. It’s the second time this season that San Antonio took an 11-game winning streak into a road venue where Popovich rested key players. Back on Feb. 21 in Portland, Popovich sat Parker and Duncan, and Ginobili was out injured. The Blazers smashed the Spurs by 40.
On Monday, Popovich said he wasn't worried about securing the No. 1 overall seed, but instead he was focusing on "trying to survive." He no doubt saw that starting with Wednesday’s game, the Spurs play three games in four days. In fact, he says the decision to sit them was made when the NBA schedule was released back in December.
The Spurs are now a game behind Oklahoma City for the Western Conference’s best record, although the teams are even in the loss column. The Spurs won the NBA title in 2005 as the No. 2 seed in the west and the 2007 championship as a No. 3 seed, so Popovich knows seeding doesn’t matter. Last year, San Antonio was the No. 1 seed and wasstunned in the first round by Memphis.
Lakers at Spurs: How the Teams Enter
In that recent winning streak, San Antonio, which is third in the NBA in scoring, hit triple digits eight times (high of 128) and won by double digits in six games. It was 7-2-2 against the spread ("ATS"). The Spurs have won eight straight at home (7-0-1 ATS), with the last loss March 9 to the other L.A. team. But Parker didn’t play in that one due to injury.
The Lakers are trying to hold on to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and lead the Clippers by 1.5 games entering Tuesday’s play in the Pacific Division. The Lakers stopped a two-game losing streak on Monday night with a 93-91 win at New Orleans.
That game was probably closer than it would have been because Kobe Bryant sat out his second straight game with a shin injury.
Lakers at Spurs Betting Story Lines
As of now Kobe is considered a game-time call for this one, but I would be shocked if he sat again. Apparently he is getting better. I am no doctor, but I will relay what was released by the Lakers’ medical staff Monday: the grinding problem of the tendon being unable to slide freely inside Bryant’s inflamed sheath (the medical term is crepitus) has already ceased. If Kobe can’t go, Devin Ebanks would likely start again.
Andrew Bynum seems a bit lost without Kobe. Yes, Bynum has 41 points and 29 boards combined in the two games Bryant has missed, but Bynum is also just 17-for-44 (38.6 percent compared to 58.1 percent on the season before those two games) from the field.
Bynum is being double-teamed more often because Bryant isn’t around to help open up space in the lane (and draw his own double-teams) with his outside game.
It looks like Bynum might have another meltdown soon, as well. After he didn’t get a foul call following three close misses on one possession Monday, he ran down a Hornets player and essentially bear-hugged him in the open court for no apparent reason. But no flagrant foul was called.
Pau Gasol, meanwhile, is thriving in the two non-Kobe games, averaging 27.5 points (24-for-46 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Point guard Ramon Sessions also has played well with Kobe out.
I would be equally stunned if Popovich sits his Big 3 again. He rarely does that at home because he doesn’t want to cheat the Spurs fans and season-ticket holders out of seeing their stars.
Believe it or not, San Antonio and the Lakers will be playing for the first time this season, and they still face off twice more over the next 10 days. Last season the teams split four meetings, with L.A. winning the final two. Each won once on the other’s court, including the Lakers ending San Antonio’s franchise-record 22-game home winning streak last March. In San Antonio, the Lakers are 5-5 in their last 10 visits.
Lakers at Spurs Betting Odds and Key Trends
The Spurs opened as nine-and-a-half point favorites with the total at 201 on NBA odds. The Lakers are 23-35 ATS overall this season and 10-19 on the road (most road ATS losses in league). San Antonio is 33-19-3 ATS overall (by far fewest ATS losses in NBA) and 19-7-1 at home (also fewest home ATS losses). "Over-under" records: LAL 23-25-1, SA 31-24.
The Lakers are 1-8 ATS in their past nine games after a win. But, the Lakers are 7-1 ATS in their past eight Wednesday games. The Spurs are 7-0 ATS in their past seven after a loss. The over is 9-1 in L.A.’s past 10 road games. The over is 8-2 in San Antonio’s past 10 home games. L.A. has covered in five of its past seven trips to San Antonio.
NBA Picks: Lakers at Spurs Betting Predictions
I have little doubt that San Antonio wins, because while I do expect Kobe to play, he may not be 100 percent. But 9.5 points is an awful lot—that early line has to be assuming Bryant is out (it will certainly drop if he’s ruled good to go).
L.A. doesn’t have a good record on the road, but has been better of late, winning seven of nine on the road—including one “at” Clippers—after ugly back-to-back losses in Detroit and Washington on March 6-7. So I’m taking the Lakers and the points (jump on that big number before it drops) and also the under-rested teams play better defense.
However, if Kobe doesn’t play, take the Spurs and the over because it probably is a rout.
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