Andrew Bynum nearly outrebounded the Spurs by himself in the Lakers’ easy win over San Antonio last week. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich countered in Tuesday’s rematch by starting his two best big-men defenders: Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan.
The two barely played together last season, Splitter’s first in the NBA after emerging as one of the best players in Europe. But Popovich had paired them for about 108 minutes this season as of mid-February – two months and 25 games ago. It seemed like a signal that Popovich was ready to at least experiment with the Splitter/Duncan duo as a way to address the Spurs’ largest alleged weakness: the lack of a good secondary big-man defender next to Duncan, and a resulting inability to defend teams with two behemoth post players.
The Grizzlies exposed that flaw in upsetting the Spurs last season, and head-to-head matchups become paramount in the playoffs. With the Lakers, Clippers and Grizzlies fighting for seeds 3-5 in the Western Conference, the Spurs, in good position to get the top seed, are likely to face one of the league’s top two-headed post attacks in the second round. That likelihood becomes a certainty if the Lakers slip to fourth, into a first-round matchup with Memphis.