The San Antonio Spurs currently have six less losses than the Lakers, and these early signs have some people thinking that if the Lakers and Spurs were to square off in the playoffs, that the Spurs would come out victorious.
Now let me tell you why nothing could be further from the truth, and it all hinges on the health of Andrew Bynum.
The Spurs have taken great steps to get themselves back in the championship hunt lately, and their efforts have paid of thus far. They injected youth into their squad with Gary Neal, Richard Jefferson is finally playing like the man they signed two summers ago, and Manu Ginobli is putting up near MVP quality numbers.
Duncan's numbers have fallen pretty dramatically this season (-5ppg) (-2rpg), but this dip has been over-ridden by the stellar play of his fellow starters. Tony Parker has played remarkably well also, when you think about all the controversy that has surrounded both himself, and his teammates.
The result of all these factors and developments has the Spurs atop the West, looking like the number one option to dethrone the Western champ's, The Los Angeles Lakers. The Spurs and Lakers have had some memorable meetings in the past, and they seem to be on a collision course toward another one this post season. The question that keeps running through my head is;
Is this fools gold, or do the Spurs really have a chance to advance to the Finals if the Lakers stand in their way? Take a minute to think about it while we quickly look at the starters, and how they match up.
Kobe Bryant>Manu Ginobli
Ron Artest=Richard Jefferson
Pau Gasol>Tim Duncan
Andrew Bynum>Dejuan Blair
Parker over Fish is kind of a given. He'll run circles around D-Fish, even if Fish can hit the clutch shots. Manu is having a great season, but Kobe can still bury him any night he chooses. He's the far more complete player/ future hall of famer. Ron-ron and RJ are a draw in my book, as they both decide which nights they are relevant to the outcome. Both have the long ball capability, and both can create turnovers like it's their job.
All respect given to Duncan as literally the best Power Forward of all time, but Gasol's game is peaking while Duncan's game is dipping. Timmy can go out their and put up stellar performances on any given night, but the problem is, it's not happening nearly as often anymore. Pau Gasol on the other hand is the NBA's Mr. Dependable. He always scores, he rebounds with the best of them, he can pass beautifully, and even block a few shots per contest. Advantage, Pau. Now for Andrew;
Time's up, it was kind of a trick question.
Does Andrew Bynum tip the scales in LA's favor?
The first part of the answer is no, this is not fools gold in San Antonio. This team does seem to be for real this year. All of the moves and adjustments that Greg Popovich has made this year feel like the right ones, and they're resulting in a conference leading win total thus far. They may have also been able to dethrone Los Angeles as the Western Conference Champ's also, that is until Andrew Bynum came back healthy.
Which brings me to the second part of the answer; Andrew Bynum tips the scales dramatically in the Lakers favor.
He may not be the most consistent, or the most explosive player on the Laker Squad, but he is still one of the most important. One thing that the Spurs lack at the moment, is size. Duncan may be a big fella, but who else on the team is exactly? Dejuan Blair is only 6'7, and that's just not going to cut it in a seven game series against a team with basically three seven footers.
With Andrew Bynum back skying for rebounds, swatting shots, and getting second chance buckets, the Lakers re-gain a jaw dropping advantage in the paint. He's jumping higher than he has in three years, and it has restored hope in Laker fans about his health this year.
The team that wins the battle on the glass, tends to be the team that wins the game, or series as it may be. When it comes to that battle, the Lakers will be ready to give the Spurs all they can handle.