Spurs vs. Lakers: Point Guard Matchup Will Be Key in Western Conference Clash

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIApril 20, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 24:  Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs looks to pass on the court during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on March 24, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers both sport high-quality point guards in Tony Parker and Steve Nash, but concerns surround both players due to injuries. In that context, the matchup between these two squads at the position will be a huge key when they kick off their postseasons on Sunday afternoon in the AT&T Center.

It's a jam-packed Western Conference, and there really isn't that big of a gap between the second-seeded Spurs and the No. 7 Lakers.

Parker went down back in early March with a severely sprained ankle and has also been bothered by a sore neck among other things. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News highlighted all of Parker's issues at the beginning of the month:

Sporadic play down the stretch of the regular season for Parker caused him to play inconsistently, and he is shooting just 37.5 percent in his past six games. It remains to be seen if the lighter minute load and added rest will serve him well for this series.

The 39-year-old Nash has continually fought through ailments all season long, recently sitting out most of the past nine games to nurse an injured hamstring. However, the two-time NBA MVP will be in uniform for Game 1 in San Antonio, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.

In the absence of Nash, backup PG Steve Blake has played exceptionally well on both ends of the court for head coach Mike D'Antoni.

Blake is thriving as a distributor and scorer in the Lakers' up-tempo offense. He was a big part of the five-game winning streak that kept LA in the playoff picture, scoring a season-high 24 points in the season finale victory against the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers last took on the Spurs the game before, and Blake poured in 23 points in a 91-86 win. Blake averaged 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists during LA's five-game spurt.

But San Antonio's Gary Neal packs a punch off the Spurs' deep bench himself. Although he isn't quite the three-point marksman that Blake is, he has exceptional athleticism and can take any of his Lakers counterparts off the dribble.

It will be interesting to see how healthy Parker and Nash are, but the individual showdown between Blake and Neal suddenly becomes that much more important.

There aren't many other capable floor generals for either team outside of their respective two-deep point guard situations.

Considering how little both Parker and Nash have played lately—and how ineffective they've been when doing so—it will be interesting to see how their chemistry is in a playoff atmosphere. Surgery on Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles tendon guarantees that Nash will be without the superstar who can so easily create his own shots and make his teammates better.

The same goes for Parker with respect to the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, who returned for San Antonio's final regular-season game but also has a bad hamstring. Ginobili is in the midst of his worst season since being a rookie, averaging just 11.8 points in 2012-13.

Whichever team can win this matchup should have a great chance to pull out the series. Los Angeles has lost all five starters for significant stretches of time this season, though, so if that is any indication, it appears the Lakers have the advantage.