In what many are calling the most intriguing first-round series of the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a very difficult position as they must beat the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday to avoid going down 2-0.
The Spurs handled the Lakers in Game 1 by a score of 91-79, so L.A. will need some major performances in order to strike back. If the Spurs continue to play their game, however, the Lakers don't stand much of a chance in this series. Provided San Antonio's best players show up once again on Wednesday, the Spurs should find themselves in firm control of the series.
Here are three stars who will play particularly well in Game 2 and solidify the Spurs' place in the driver's seat on Wednesday night.
Tim Duncan may be 36 years of age, but he certainly hasn't played like it this season. The future Hall of Fame power forward has been excellent all season long and was the Spurs' best player in Game 1. He posted yet another double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds and made five of his six crucial free throws as well. Duncan did a little bit of everything for the Spurs and put them in excellent position.
The main concern among Spurs fans heading into the series was whether or not San Antonio would be able to handle the Lakers' interior duo of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. While Howard and Gasol scored some points in Game 1, they certainly didn't go off. Duncan did his job in that regard and really held his own against two of the NBA's premier interior players.
On top of all that, Duncan has an incredible amount of playoff experience in big games, so nothing is too difficult for him in the postseason. The Big Fundamental is likely very comfortable after the way he and the Spurs played in Game 1, and he will almost certainly carry that over into Game 2. If Duncan is his usual, steady self, the Spurs should have no problem coming out on top.
As good as Duncan was all season long, most would probably agree that point guard Tony Parker was the team's most valuable player when he was healthy. Parker had arguably the best season of his impressive NBA career, and he is hoping to carry that over into the playoffs. Although Parker wasn't exactly spectacular in Game 1, he played well enough and essentially canceled out opposing point guard Steve Nash.
Even in what some might consider to be a subpar game for Parker, he registered 18 points and dished out eight assists in Game 1. He was a bit off from the field as he made eight of 21 shots, but he got better as the game went on, and his close-range shots are bound to fall as the series progresses. Even if he doesn't have his best shooting series, he is still extremely valuable as a distributor.
Parker is important to the Spurs because he contributes in so many different areas. As he goes, the offense usually goes as well. Nash is a great point guard in his own right for the Lakers, but he isn't particularly good defensively, and he will have a lot of trouble dealing with Parker's quickness in Game 2.
While the play of Manu Ginobili off the bench was huge for the Spurs in Game 1 and will continue to be throughout the series, forward Kawhi Leonard may be an even bigger key for San Antonio. He doesn't receive as much attention as some of the Spurs' veteran stars, but he is a fine utility player. He is a virtual Swiss army knife for the Spurs, as he contributes across the board and does the little things necessary to win games.
Leonard averaged nearly 12 points and six rebounds per game during the regular season while connecting on almost 50 percent of his attempts from the field. Leonard brought that production to the table in Game 1 against the Lakers as well. He chipped in eight points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks while adding a valuable wing presence to the Spurs' lineup.
There isn't a player on the Lakers' roster who can handle Leonard's supreme athleticism. He is capable of getting to the rim, shooting from outside and defending on the perimeter as well. As important as the likes of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are to the Spurs' success, Leonard will be key in Game 2, and he'll be a huge piece to the puzzle for the remainder of the playoffs.
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