By Dennis Berry
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When you start a NBA Playoff series match up, each team wants to send a message. If you are the lower seed and playing on the road, you want to try and split the first two games. If you are the higher seed with home court advantage, you want to protect that and not lose it.
The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, the one and two seeds in the Western Conference, failed to protect home court advantage. The top seeded Spurs lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 101-98. The Lakers lost 109-100 to the New Orleans Hornets. Both teams' losses probably looked familiar to their fans.
The Spurs were the best team throughout much of the regular season. It wasn't until the end of match that they began to struggle. On March 21 they were 57-13 and had the best record in the NBA. They would finish 4-12 and lose the top overall seed to Chicago. They still had the one seed in the Western Conference and home court.
The Grizzlies were not impressed. The Grizzlies had not won a playoff series since entering the NBA in 1995. The franchise had not even won a playoff game, going 0-12 and were swept out in the first round in three previous playoff appearances. They knew they could match up with the Spurs. They had went 2-2 against them in the regular season, although not winning at all in San Antonio.
Of course none of that matters this time around. The Grizzlies were lead by their big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Randolph scored 25 and grabbed 14 rebounds and Gasol added 24 and nine rebounds as the Grizzlies shot 55% from the field to steal game one on the road.
Their counter parts on the Spurs, Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess, could not match that production. Duncan had 16 points and 13 rebounds, while McDyess only contributed 3 points and 1 rebound. The Spurs did have a chance for the tie at the end after a pair of free throws made 101-98, but Richard Jefferson missed a three at the end.
So have the Grizzlies found a plan that will continue to work against San Antonio? Randolph averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds against the Spurs this season, but it was the play of Gasol that let them control the paint. If they want to have a shot, Gasol must provide that every game this series. Mostly because you figure the Grizzlies will not shoot 55% from the floor every game this series.
The Spurs are going to have to find a way to limit the Spurs production around the basket. McDyess playing better will help with that and they hope to have Manu Ginobili, the teams second leading scorer during the regular season, back in the line up to add an offensive threat on the wing with Tony Parker.
For the Lakers, it was more of the same from a team that believes they can turn it on whenever they want. After a three game losing streak entering the All-Star break, the Lakers went on a 17-1 run and appeared to be ready for the playoffs. Then came a five game losing streak.
Many believed the Lakers were just coasting to the playoffs to rest and be prepared. They did win the last two games, but struggled to win against a Spurs team of reserves and in overtime against the Sacramento Spurs. So you figured the Lakers would be focused against the New Orleans Hornets.
The Lakers were not ready for the Hornets and mainly Chris Paul who had an outstanding performance in the opening game. The Lakers had no answer for Paul when the Hornets were on offense. Paul had 33 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals to lead the Hornets to a win in Los Angeles.
This appeared to be a good match up for the Lakers. They have a clear advantage in the post with Paul Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Hornets were without their best big man in David West who was lost earlier in the season. They would look to Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor to counter the Lakers' big men.
The advantage did not work out for the Lakers in Game 1. Bynum did contribute 13 points and 9 rebounds, but Gasol only had 8 points and 6 rebounds. Even the Lakers' sixth man Lamar Odom only added 10 points and 1 rebound. If it was not for Kobe Bryant, who scored 34, the Lakers would have been blown out.
This game is just the same old song and dance for the Lakers over the last month. A team that is trying to win its third straight title, comes out appearing to give little effort. They were down eight points at half time, but were able to cut into the Hornets' lead to one going into the fourth. The Hornets were able to take control of the game in the final quarter.
So will this game finally wake the Lakers up or are they really in trouble? Or has the Lakers age finally caught up with them? They have played in three straight NBA Finals, that is over 100 plus games coming into this season.
Are these just hiccups on the road to a potential conference finals showdown, or are age and injuries about to catch up with both teams? Stay tuned.
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