The San Antonio Spurs have a 2-0 series lead over a Lakers team that is giving a whole new meaning to the word "depleted." Los Angeles will likely be without a slew of key components in Game 3, paving the way for Gregg Popovich's crew step on the throat of Tinseltown's postseason aspirations.
No team in NBA history has ever come back to win a series after falling behind 3-0, and while any organization would welcome becoming the first, the Lakers don't want to put themselves in that position.
Hollywood was 29-12 at Staples Center during the regular season, so there's that to place stake in. The Spurs are, however, tied for the NBA's best road record on the year (23-18).
Can the Lakers find a way to persevere through an overwhelming number of injuries to salvage any and all postseason hopes, or will the Spurs continue to eye a series sweep?
Time: Friday, April 26, 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center; Los Angeles, California
Series Record: 2-0 Spurs
Key Storyline: Is There Any Hope for the Battered Lakers?
My whole "Lakers will take the Spurs to six games" rant really isn't looking too good right about now.
Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Steve Blake is out indefinitely and both Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks are doubtful for Game 3.
Lakers just announced Steve Blake (hamstring) out indefinitely andSteve Nash (hip/hamstring) & Jodie Meeks (ankle) doubtful for Game 3— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 25, 2013
Ouch (pun intended).
The Lakers have battled injuries all season long, but never to this degree of frequency. It seems they'll be without Blake, Nash, Meeks and Kobe Bryant when they take the court on Friday. How are they supposed to overcome that?
Paging Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon.
The sad thing is, I'm not even kidding. Los Angeles' starting lineup appears destined to resemble that of an impoverished lottery team, not an injury-riddled powerhouse with hopes of pulling off an upset.
I don't even want to think about what this means for Pau Gasol and Howard. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike D'Antoni to play them all 48 minutes. And I also wouldn't be surprised if either one of them got injured during those 48 minutes. That's just how it has gone for the Lakers this season.
Hollywood struggled to remain within striking distance in both Games 1 and 2 of the series. Envisioning them attempting to do the same sans Blake, Meeks and Nash is agonizing. And watching it is likely to be equally as tormenting.
Here's to hoping Gasol and Howard have their best game of the season alongside a slew of untested reserves who have the game of their lives.
Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Lakers: Steve Blake (hamstring, out), Kobe Bryant (Achilles, out), Jodie Meeks (ankle, doubtful) and Steve Nash (hip/hamstring, doubtful).
Spurs: Boris Diaw (back, out).
Projected Starting Lineups
Lakers: Darius Morris (PG), Andrew Goudelock (SG), Metta World Peace (SF), Pau Gasol (PF) and Dwight Howard (C)
Spurs: Tony Parker (PG), Danny Green (SG), Kawhi Leonard (SF), Tim Duncan (PF) and Tiago Spiltter (C)
The Lakers will win if...
Popovhich decides to rest his starting lineup (I'm only half kidding).
What the Lakers are going to need to do to keep this one close is defend, hit threes and just score like there's no tomorrow, because let's face it, they're almost isn't.
Los Angeles did a nice job of keeping San Antonio's offense honest in Game 1 but allowed 102 points in Game 2. A similar point total cannot be an option in Game 3.
Three of the Lakers' most important offensive players (I can't believe I'm saying that about Blake) are evidently going to be watching from the sidelines. Offense is unlikely to be their strong suit, which means they have to stifle a Spurs team that was fourth in points per game during the regular season (103).
Of course, the Lakers are going to need some offense. Perhaps even loads of it. They'll continue to feed the ball to Gasol and Howard, but shorthanded teams often live and die by the three. Just ask the New York Knicks.
Deep balls count for more (duh), allowing a team to bolster its offensive output and give them a puncher's chance at outscoring their opponent. Los Angels is just 11-of-37 from downtown through the first two games (29.7) percent, a clip they'll have to build upon considerably.
San Antonio won't have to respect the shooting prowess of Nash or Meeks (or even Blake) so expect them to send doubles toward Gasol and Howard hard and often. If guys like World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark and any of Los Angeles' lesser-known minions (Goudelock, Duhon and Morris can knock down their open treys, the Lakers might just stand a chance.
That's a pretty gargantuan-sized "if," though.
The Spurs will win if...
They show up to the arena on time (again, I'm kidding).
San Antonio needs to focus on keeping Gasol and Howard in check. With the Lakers now even slimmer on the wing than before, the Spurs will want to keep the ball out of Dwight and Pau's hands.
The Lakers didn't hit their threes consistently in the first two games, so forcing L.A. to take perimeter shots would be the blueprint to follow. Now that Los Angeles will be relying on some unproven talent in the backcourt, that approach only stands to pay bigger dividends.
Ensuring they remain somewhat efficient on the offensive end will important as well. Los Angeles will be depending on its defense to keep them in the game, and the Spurs aren't going to want a repeat of Game 1 where they shot just 37.6 percent from the field. They won anyway, but that's not how you want your offense playing in the postseason.
Assuming none of the injured Lakers are able to play, this is a game the Spurs should win. If they don't, it will be a significant letdown. They'll still be ahead 2-1, but they'll have missed an opportunity to put Los Angeles in what has historically been a no-win situation.
If the undermanned Lakers manage to snag a victory, people will swoon. I won't rule it out since they're playing at home, but I also won't pretend like I won't be amongst those fainting.
Los Angeles hung touch defensively in Game 1, but its the team's offense which hasn't been as productive as it needs to be. Game 2 turned into a scoring battle, and if that's the case in Game 3, not only with the Lakers lose, they'll get blown out.
Which team will win Game 3?
The Spurs weren't their usual efficient selves in Game 1, but they did regain their swagger in time to shoot 51.2 percent from the floor in Game 2. Parker and Duncan have been off (for them), but they've still managed to put some points on the board.
There are few reasons to believe that San Antonio will be caught off guard by an abrasion-plagued Los Angeles convocation. Even if the Lakers come out and hold the Spurs to under 90 points, they now lack the offensive weaponry to expect a victory. And they lack the depth to guarantee anything than a 48-minute struggle.
Barring any injuries of their own, this should be a game that the Spurs win.
Which means the Lakers should find themselves on the brink of elimination.
Prediction: Spurs 97, Lakers 86
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.