Spurs' defense out to slow Lakers' offense
LOS ANGELES — The improved Los Angeles Lakers play host to the San Antonio Spurs in a matchup of two of the NBA's top offensive teams and best defensive clubs on Friday night at Staples Center.
The Spurs (9-3) are riding a four-game winning streak after a 110-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. Ex-Laker Pau Gasol led the way for San Antonio with a season-high 24 points and nine rebounds. Gasol will face his former team for the first time in a Spurs uniform.
The Lakers (7-5), who have won three of their last four games, will face an obvious and early challenge against the Spurs, annually one of the league's top teams. After dropping consecutive contests to the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets at home more than a week ago, the Spurs responded with consecutive wins over the Detroit Pistons, the Rockets, the Miami Heat and the Kings.
“We're connecting with each other better, moving the ball better,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is tied with Larry Brown for seventh on the all-time NBA list for regular-season coaching victories at 1,098. “We're improving.”
The Spurs are 6-0 on the road and have captured the last five contests against the Lakers, going 4-0 last season. Ball movement and contributions from several players sparked the Spurs' recent surge.
Forward Kawhi Leonard, again an early MVP candidate, is averaging 25 points per game and 2.4 steals (third best in the league). LaMarcus Aldridge is scoring 17.8 points per game and hitting 54.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“We're at our best when we move the ball, when we make the defense work and we find the open guys,” Gasol said. “We get much better shots that way, and it pays off. It creates a flow and energy that carries over to the defensive end.”
The Spurs average 101.9 points on offense (19th in the NBA), but their defense is holding opponents to 96.8 points (fourth).
The Lakers have emerged as one of the league's top scoring teams. Los Angeles is ranked second in scoring at 110 points per game, trailing only the Golden State Warriors (117.4 points).
Point guard D'Angelo Russell scored a season-high 32 points and forward Julius Randle contributed a triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists Wednesday in a 125-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers' bench has been another strength, averaging a league-best 50.6 points. Reserve guard Lou Williams has been one of the main sparkplugs with a 15.6 scoring average.
“They have been great all year, so obviously we're not going to complain about them, but even before the (Brooklyn) game I said I think the reason that they have so much success is because of how unselfish they play as a group,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of his reserves.
Both clubs are among the leaders in 3-point shooting percentage. San Antonio is ranked second at 39.2 percent per game, with Los Angeles is tied for third with Golden State at 37.4 percent.
The Spurs will be without center Dewayne Dedmon (left knee sprain), who is not traveling with the team.