Entering the postseason with a load of momentum, there are varying viewpoints in the NBA community regarding whether or not the Lakers can have a successful playoff run without the Black Mamba.
Mike Fratello, on the same broadcast, is expecting a close series given how close their games have been this season.
Despite these varying opinions, there is one key that will decide the Lakers' chances against the No. 2 seeded Spurs. Whether or not this factor is controlled by the Lakers, there is no doubt that Smith and Fratello have the right idea in terms of expecting a good series from these two veteran teams.
The key to winning this series is control of the paint.
Although Duncan has had a resurgent season, there is no doubt that Howard is the far more physically dominant presence at this point in their careers.
With Howard and Pau Gasol matching up against Duncan and his host of front court teammates, the battle inside the paint will be one of the deciding factors in this series.
It is common knowledge that the team that controls the boards controls the tempo of the game. While both teams work well in a half-court set, the Lakers will need Gasol and Howard to control the paint in order to take an advantage.
Although there are different ways to play offense, the Spurs are more proficient in almost every other way other than the half-court set.
Despite their age, the Spurs are a better fast-break team and have the spacing and shooters that Mike D'Antoni wishes the Lakers had.
Therefore, dominating the paint and scoring in the paint will be key for the Lakers against a more versatile Spurs team.
The second key to this series is the prevention of penetration into the paint.
Without Bryant, the onus of the responsibility falls on Metta World Peace to try and prevent penetration.
While Manu Ginobili may still be a non-factor in the first round, if Tony Parker is anywhere near full strength, the Lakers may be in trouble.
With the way Gasol and Howard have been playing, if Bryant weren't injured, they could have stuck him on Parker and allowed Gasol and Howard to dictate the offense while the Black Mamba focused on trying to slow down Parker.
However, without Bryant, Parker may be able to have his way with the Lakers' back court.
Defense at the point guard position has been a weakness for the Lakers for the past several years. If Parker is able to penetrate and dish like he was at the start of the season, the Lakers may have no choice but to collapse on him, which will allow the Spurs' shooters to generate a lot of open looks.
Will the Lakers beat the Spurs?
Stopping Parker may be the biggest factor in this series. While Howard and Gasol may be able to match up well with Duncan, there isn't a player on the Lakers' roster that can slow down Parker.
Therefore, there has to be a lot of help defense and communication for the Lakers, which hasn't been their strong suit this season under Mike D'Antoni.
With Duncan doing his work in the interior and Parker driving and creating, the Lakers will have a hard time controlling the paint. However, it is essential that they do so if they wish to have any chance of advancing out of the first round.