Before the season started, many NBA fans predicted the Lakers would be one of the top teams in the NBA. It was assumed that when the postseason came around, Los Angeles would be an unstoppable force.
Those fans certainly wouldn't have expected L.A. to be down 3-0 in its first-round playoff series. Nor would they have expected Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks to all be out injured.
Nevertheless, there the Lakers were Friday night: their guards wounded, with Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris in the starting lineup. L.A.'s first-round opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, pounced on the Lakers, showing no mercy whatsoever. When the final buzzer sounded, the final score was 120-89 in the Spurs' favor.
Throughout Friday's game, there were several keys that contributed to the outcome:
Fast-break points: The Spurs pushed the ball early in transition, leading to 19 fast-break points to the Lakers' six. San Antonio controlled the tempo of the game, took advantage of the Lakers' hesitation in getting back early on defense, and made them pay for the lack of hustle.
Bench points: For several years, the Spurs have been known for being a deep team, and it is expected that their bench players will come ready to play. So it was no surprise that the Spurs' bench outscored the Lakers' bench 46-9 on Friday night. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich orchestrated the Spurs to perfection, and his team's bench seemed to play in unison.
Tim Duncan: Duncan was the focal point for the Spurs — both offensively and defensively. His playoff experience was clear and evident in the way he conducted himself, and the way he took what the defense gave him. In the end, he scored a game-high 26 points and snatched up nine rebounds as well.
Many would view the Lakers' plethora of injuries as an easy excuse as to why they performed so under par. Lakers center Dwight Howard however, disagrees.
"It's been a very tough year," Howard said to ESPN, "But we're not going to make any excuses, and we're not going to quit."
To stay in the playoff race, the Lakers will have to follow Howard's lead and avoid excuses. With Friday night's loss, the Lakers now trail the Spurs 3-0.
The Lakers will suit up again for Game 4 on Sunday evening in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but unless they beat the Spurs, it will be for the final time this season.
You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at: @MitchKunzler
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